To a computer, words and sentences appear like data. But AI researchers want to teach computers how to actually understand the meaning of a sentence and learn from it.One of the best ways to test the capability of an AI to do that is to see whether it can understand and follow a set of instructions for a task that it’s unfamiliar with. Regina Barzilay, a professor of computer science and electrical engineering at MIT’s computer science and AI lab, has attempted to do just that — teaching a computer to play Sid Meier’s Civilization.
In Civilization, the player is asked to guide a nation from the earliest periods of history through to the present day and into the future. It’s complex, and each action doesn’t necessarily have a predetermined outcome, because the game can react randomly to what you do.
Barzilay found that putting a machine-learning system to work on Civ gave it a victory rate of 46 percent, but that when the system was able to use the manual for the game to guide the development of its strategy, it rose dramatically to 79 percent.