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Mario develops awareness, plays his own game

A team of researchers has programmed an AI into Nintendo's Super Mario Advance, so that he can play his own game according to his feelings.

Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET

The whole point of a video game is that it's interactive -- that the little avatar on the screen is under your control. If that little avatar needs no input from you, then you essentially become an observer, and the medium cannot truly be called a game.

Luckily, an AI developed for Super Mario Advance can still be controlled using input from a human operator. Created by a team of researchers at the University of Tubingen, Germany, the AI allows Mario to respond to vocal commands and enquiries, experience emotions and act autonomously in response to those emotions.

The program uses Carnegie Mellon's speech recognition toolkit so that Mario -- who has been made aware of his environment -- can understand spoken commands.

When phrases from the toolkit's language tree are said to Mario, he has a range of possible actions he can take, based on what he has learned.

For example, Mario does not know that jumping on a goomba will destroy it until he has been told this piece of information -- or, if he finds and jumps on a goomba on his own, after being instructed to find an enemy, he can extrapolate that jumping on a goomba may destroy it.

Additionally, he can act according to how he feels at any given time. When he is hungry, he will seek out and collect coins. When he is curious, he will explore his environment autonomously.

Finally, he can plan his actions several steps in advance. When the human operator asks Mario to reach a difficult location, Mario will calculate how many jumps he needs to make, how high, and in which direction.

This isn't the first time the plucky little plumber has been used as a platform for AI development. For several years, an AI competition centred around Mario, and in 2013 computer scientist Tom Murphy created a program to autonomously play a variety of NES games.

Check out Mario developing awareness in the video below.