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After humiliating the world’s best Go players, AlphaGo retired, and DeepMind looked for other challenges for its AI like how to diagnose eye disease and how to make lip-reading experts look like fools.
It was not done playing games though. DeepMind’s AlphaZero taught itself chess from scratch, which only took about four hours. After beating the world’s best chess-playing program, Google and Blizzard began teaching it how to play StarCraft II.
The DeepMind AI derivative named AlphaStar went head-to-head with SCII pros Dario “TLO” Wünsch and Grzegorz “MaNa” Komincz and soundly crushed them with each losing five out of five games back in December.
TLO claimed a disadvantage since the match used the Protoss race, which he is not too fond of and admitted lacking the skill to use effectively. He was swept in a five-game series.
Acknowledging that AlphaStar had the advantage against TLO, the DeepMind team decided to pit the AI against Protoss expert MaNa during the second round. The twice champion of major StarCraft II tournaments also fell to disgrace after being shutout 5-0.
DeepMind admitted that one advantage that AlphaStar had over the human players is the ability to see the entire map at once, although it still cannot see through the Fog of War. In other words, it can pay attention to its own base and enemy units and movement without having to shift focus as a human player does. This “zoomed-out” view allows the AI to make strategic decisions more effectively.
At the end of the December event, DeepMind decided it wanted to train a whole new agent that did not have the benefit of the overhead view. Instead, it would have to “decide” where to focus its attention just like a human. It only took the AI about a week to become proficient in the new method. Of course, one week of practice for AlphaStar is equivalent to 200 years of play time for us mortals.
The puny humans got a chance to redeem themselves on Thursday when MaNa again got to face the new AlphaStar agent in mortal StarCraft combat. DeepMind and Blizzard streamed the live match. AlphaStar started out strong, but the StarCraft pro was able to recognize and exploit a weakness in the new AI and pulled off a win against the machine.
You can watch the live match above, which starts at about 2:31:07 for your convenience. The two hours before the game shows highlights from the December beatings AlphaStar doled out. DeepMind also explains quite a bit about how the AI works, which is quite interesting if you feel like rewinding.
If you play SCII and would like to analyze AlphaStar’s butt-kicking strategies for ideas, you can find videos for all the AI/Human matches at the DeepMind website.