DeepMind’s StarCraft Bot Has a 191-Year Head Start on Humanity
AlphaStar learned from half a million human games, then played itself 120 million times to master its technique
DeepMind, Alphabet’s A.I. research firm, has built an artificial intelligence system capable of defeating a vast majority of the world’s StarCraft II players, according to research published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
The DeepMind team debuted AlphaStar, its StarCraft II-playing bot, earlier this year in show matches against top esports professionals. But the new research details secret matches held this July with players who opted into being randomly matched against the program.
DeepMind deployed three versions of AlphaStar, which each learned the game in a slightly different way. StarCraft II players climb a ladder in the game’s highly competitive multiplayer modes, attaining different ranks depending on their skill level. The first two versions of AlphaStar were good enough to reach the highest tier of play, Grandmaster. After 30 games as each playable race in the game — the insectoid Zerg, advanced alien Protoss, and scrappy human Terran — AlphaStar placed in the top 0.15% of players in the European region.
StarCraft II is a competitive video game defined by its complexity. Each player is tasked with growing an army, building structures to further their offensive, defensive, or productive capacity, with the ultimate goal of exploring their surroundings, finding their enemy, and destroying them. Hundreds of units must be independently orchestrated, like workers who mine resources or soldiers who target opponents with special abilities. That’s why it took AlphaStar more than 120 million games played against itself, and hundreds of years of accelerated game time, to master StarCraft II.
Every time AlphaStar makes a move in the game — selecting a unit to gather valuable vespene gas, directing an air fleet to target an invading Colossus, and so on — it’s technically choosing from 10-to-the-26th-power potential options, according to DeepMind. That can also be expressed as a potential 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 moves.
Strategies in StarCraft II are typically sorted into two categories: micro and…