Gaming is no longer the domain of the few - it has become a global industry making billions. Indeed, video games as an industry sometimes overtakes Hollywood, both in spending and in profits. Like all forms of technology, advances made in the industry sometimes have had side effects in other areas. Progress is progress, regardless of where it is specifically located. One fascinating area of advancing tech in gaming is artificial intelligence (AI). Few areas are better suited to show off the capabilities of AI, at least from an initial perspective, than video games. Let’s see what AI has done for video games and where this can lead to in future.

Outlining AI

Artificial intelligence is an area of computer science that is somewhat difficult to define. Primarily, it involves finding ways for computers to process and engage in complicated tasks that – to varying degrees – mimic human cognition. But, within this field, various categories have arisen. Machine learning, for example, concerns getting machines to flip how we usually approach AI. As Forbes’ Bernard Marr highlights: “rather than teaching computers everything they need to know about the world and how to carry out tasks, it might be possible to teach them to learn for themselves.”

With the spread of the internet and rapid advances we’ve made in tech, we actually encounter artificial intelligence all the time. Various digital assistants, for example, are plugged into the vast data sets of the internet, offering unique answers to a range of questions. They can speak to us, offering directions and information, without us ever having to touch a keyboard. Artificial intelligence isn’t some distant technology – it’s here and just being refined.

Artificial intelligence and gaming

Gaming is defined by very specific rules. Because there are so many different types of games, with various genres and themes appealing to different demographics, everyone can find something they enjoy (in the same way, everyone can enjoy music as a medium). From games that aim to accurately simulate driving cars to narrative-driven experiences with Hollywood-level performances, the spectrum is as large as people’s tastes. Yet all of them are unified by having rules and structures. Otherwise, games become meaningless.

The problem for many experts in computer science and game development is that artificial intelligence threatens the idea of rule-making. As Gamasutra, a gaming industry website, points out: “Game AI developers worry [that] advanced AI is unpredictable, and could not only destroy the player experience ... but also that unpredictability could throw a wrench in more traditional game production processes.”

Despite this, work is still being done to improve AI systems in games, to help provide unique experiences to gamers. For example, the racing game series Forza uploads players’ driving habits to a storage cloud, then puts this data into digital avatars. These avatars then serve as opponents for the player’s friends (who also play Forza). That means instead of having computer controlled opponents, these fake opponents mimic a player’s friends via learning their habits.

Why this matters

In order for technology to advance, people require incentives: whether this is to get people to care or to fund, research for its own sake can only go so far. In the massive industry of video gaming, anything that can lead to improved sales and more players will be funded. Artificial intelligence provides an opportunity for game developers to create unique experiences for players – because AI can learn, it means every player can get a unique outcome in games that use advanced AI. This makes a game highly marketable and more likely to be bought, netting profits for companies.

But the advances in AI won’t remain solely within games. Tech progress always spills outside of specific domains: doctors use virtual reality headsets to educate medical students, expert designers help game companies provide tools so that people with disabilities can enjoy their products, and so on.

AI is no different and is already a field many folks care about. It’s being used in upcoming cars, search engines, and a range of areas – and any advances in one domain means advances in the general area of AI. To get a sense of what we mean by technology that is pushing the boundaries of AI, have a look at our highlights of CES 2017. Wherever the future leads, there’s no doubt that AI will be at the forefront of revolutionizing our interaction with technology.

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