How Minecraft Is Helping Microsoft Advance AI
It's no game. Microsoft's $2.5 billion Minecraft buy goes deeper than making inroads with millions of gamers.Microsoft acquired Mojang, the Swedish game company behind Minecraft, the popular block-based sandbox construction game, for a whopping $2.5 billion in 2014. As it turns out, Microsoft not only purchased the game and inherited the loyal community that sprouted around it, the software giant also ended up with a virtual laboratory in which to test artificial intelligence (AI) software. This week, the company peeled the curtain back on Project AIX. Hailing from Microsoft Research, the platform uses the Minecraft to conduct AI research. Currently, AIX is only available to select academic researchers participating in a private beta of the software. Microsoft plans to release AIX this summer under an open-source license. More than just a game, Minecraft is evolving into a gateway to other computing experiences. During last year's E3 trade show in Los Angeles, Microsoft showed off an early build of Minecraft running on HoloLens, the company's augmented reality headset. In January, the company snapped up MinecraftEdu from Teacher Gaming LLC to help bring the education-themed build of Minecraft to more classrooms.
While Minecraft's blocky, Lego-like world seems deceptively simple on the surface, intrepid gamers have cobbled together complex systems, including working computers and virtual hard drives, with an astute understanding of the game's rules and clever placement of in-game materials. Microsoft is hoping that some of that ingenuity rubs off on future AI technologies.