Computer learns meaning of words with Civilization II and wins

My word processor can tell me if I’ve misspelled a word. Computers handle language as data all the time – and do it quite well. But although my copy of Microsoft Word can recognize and highlight something like “Schwarzeneger” with a red squiggly line, it doesn’t understand the meaning of that word or what it signifies – and it certainly won’t comprehend complete sentences, instructions, or any memorable one-liners about how “it’s not a tumor.”

But recent research at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab has demonstrated that computers can analyze words, derive meaning from those words, and follow a set of instructions to perform a task. In this case, a special machine-learning system was able to achieve a 79 percent rate of victory in Civilization II against the game’s AI opponents using instructions from the manual.

“Games are used as a test bed for artificial-intelligence techniques simply because of their complexity,” explains S.R.K. Branavan, author of research paper “Learning to Win by Reading Manuals in a Monte-Carolo Framework,” to MIT News. “Every action that you take in the game doesn’t have a predetermined outcome, because the game or the opponent can randomly react to what you do. So you need a technique that can handle very complex scenarios that react in potentially random ways.”

The impressive feat isn’t that the MIT machine-learning system was able to beat Civilization II’s in-game AI; the big deal is that it was able to do it from scratch by interpreting and learning the meaning of words from what associate professor Regina Barzilay describes as the “very open text” in videogame instruction manuals. “They don’t tell you how to win. They just give you very general advice and suggestions, and you have to figure out a lot of other things on your own,” explains Barzilay.

You can read Branavan’s paper, which was presented at this year’s Association for Computational Linguistics (ACL) meeting, here.

July 14, 2011

Source: MIT News


  • Not Snake - July 15, 2011 6:38 p.m.

    Machines can now understand what they read. Can they form opinions about it and talk about it? I still have yet to find someone to talk to about Wise Man's Fear.
  • eliguy83 - July 15, 2011 3:53 p.m.

    An online news story that actually links to the paper in question? GR is not only now more awesome, but also has more integrity than most of the REAL online news outlets I read. Kudos.
  • rabidpotatochip - July 15, 2011 2:53 p.m.

    @Martfish - Crap, you're right. What's worse is that I live next to a river tile... I'll probably be one of the first to go. =(
  • Martfish - July 15, 2011 2:44 p.m.

    Damn those freaking robots. They're supposed to be our faithful servants and we're teaching them how to take over the world!!!!!!!!
  • CommandantOreo - July 15, 2011 5:38 a.m.

    My grand dreams of creating my ZAX supercomputer to rule the US Government is coming true!
  • ZigzMagoo - July 15, 2011 5:25 a.m.

    CIV 2! I have put more hours into that game than any other game
  • therawski - July 15, 2011 5:01 a.m.

    Quite facinating, Honda's Asimo robot can recognize and learn objects and climb and decend stairs, but even that screws up occasionally. My CPU is a nueralnet processor, a learning computer...
  • Jordanonfire - July 15, 2011 2:46 a.m.

    Yeah the AI went from a 42% win rate to something over 70.
  • rabidpotatochip - July 15, 2011 2:24 a.m.

    I read this paper a few days ago and I believe the AI had a 42% win rate before reading the manual, somewhere near that anyway. It's kind of sad when you realize just trying random stuff will win nearly half the time then realizing you don't even win that often.
  • bigwill1221 - July 15, 2011 2:19 a.m.

    Robots will control the world... or at least start robot world war one.
  • Tazerbri - July 15, 2011 1:47 a.m.

    The beginning of the end is at hand. Thought you might want to know.
  • Letter11 - July 15, 2011 1:38 a.m.

    At first I was wondering why you chose "Schwarzeneger" as a word example. Then I realized this article is about how we are one step closer to our inevitable doom at the cold metallic hands of Skynet.
  • TastyCakesMcgee - July 15, 2011 1:33 a.m.

    Freak'n sweet!!

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