A Microsoft Research team challenged PhD students to craft an advanced AI-based system that can collaborate with people in playing the popular Minecraft game, offering three $20K prizes. Minecraft was chosen because it offers an environment that, which relatively simple in some ways, it requires advances in areas that are still difficult for artificial computer agents to handle. The challenge asks questions like the following.

“How can we develop artificial intelligence that learns to make sense of complex environments? That learns from others, including humans, how to interact with the world? That learns transferable skills throughout its existence, and applies them to solve new, challenging problems?”

Microsoft’s Project Malmo addresses them by integrating deep reinforcement learning, cognitive science, and many AI ideas. The Malmo platform a sophisticated AI experimentation system built on top of Minecraft that is designed to support fundamental research in artificial intelligence.

A recentTechRepublic article, Microsoft competition asks PhD students to create advanced AI to play Minecraft, describes the competition and quotes UMBC Professor Marie desJardins on the project.

“Marie desJardins, AI professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, sees Minecraft as an ‘interesting and challenging problem for AI systems, because of the fundamental complexity of the game environment, the open-ended nature of the scoring system, and the opportunity to collaborate with other game players (AIs or humans).’

But desJardins also raises concerns when it comes to these competitions. ‘Who owns the resulting intellectual property?” she asked. “Are these kinds of contests the best way for grad students to spend their time? Do these competitions foster or decrease diversity? Who ultimately profits from the contests?'”

The Malmo challenge is open to PhD students who register by April 14, 2017. After registration, teams of one to three members are given a task that consists of one or more mini-games. The goal is to develop an AI solution that learns how to work with other, randomly assigned players to achieve a high score in the game. Participants submit their solutions to GitHub by May 15, including a one-minute video that shows off the AI agent and summarizes what is interesting about their approach.


Microsoft’s Katja Hofmann discusses Project Malmo