Microsoft has revealed plans to open-source a platform that allows researchers and computer scientists to build and test artificial intelligence systems using the expansive world of Minecraft.

Microsoft is certainly milking its $2.5 billion purchase of Minecraft creator Mojang for everything it's worth (not that there is anything wrong with that).

The platform, dubbed AIX, was developed by Katja Hofmann and fellow colleagues at Microsoft's Cambridge, UK, lab. Hoffman coined the idea roughly a year ago partly because she was frustrated by the limitations that existing platforms imposed. In comparison, Minecraft offers a very open world that's limited only by your imagination.

Microsoft said in a recent blog post that its own researchers have been using AIX since its inception. One of the tasks they've been working on is trying to get an in-game character to climb a hill. That seems like a simplistic goal until you consider they're trying to train the AI system to learn how to climb the hill without knowing anything about its environment.

The system needs to learn quite a bit about its surroundings - what impact falling into a river or lava pit has, for example, or whether or not the time of day affects the task (it doesn't). It'll experience plenty of trial and error, events that would be costly in the real-world. By using incremental rewards, the system eventually learns the correct methods to utilize to achieve its goal.

In addition to using it internally, Microsoft has made AIX available to a select group of academic researchers via private beta. Come this summer, the platform will be open to all by way of open-source license.