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Dip into DeepMind's 3D playground where AI comes to learn

How do you teach navigation skills to an AI agent? Why, you play laser tag with it, of course.

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The Lab is now open to outsiders.

DeepMind

DeepMind is inviting you down the rabbit hole and into its 3D digital world.

Its hope is to encourage artificial intelligence to grow and thrive in an environment that's nearly as rich as the one human intelligence evolved in.

DeepMind is an AI moonshot project under the Alphabet umbrella, formed from a London-based startup that Google bought in 2014. Remember when AI beat a human champ at the complex strategy game of Go earlier this year? That was DeepMind's doing.

The company now is giving outside software developers access to DeepMind Lab, a virtual space where AI agents learn to navigate the world, according to a blog post published Saturday.

The Lab, which DeepMind until now has restricted to insider, features graphics that make it look like a computer game from the early nineties. In fact, it's kind of a computer game in its own right -- but only AI gets to play.

In DeepMind Lab, AI software takes the form of a floating orb to move through digital space. It must commit the layout of places to memory as it goes, using first-person 3D vision to understand its surroundings and engaging motor control and strategy to travel routes in specific time frames.

That's what makes artificial intelligence different from the software we grew up with: It can learn and adapt on its own. We're already seeing everyday effects of narrow AI applications in areas from Google searches and translations to Facebook's image recognition capabilities and virtual assistants like Microsoft's Cortana and Amazon's Alexa.

DeepMind also has ambitions in health care and medical research.

To help AI acquire navigation skills, the DeepMind Lab training schedule includes activities worthy of the best kind of summer camp, including threading a way through mazes, playing laser tag and traversing dangerous passages while avoiding falling off cliffs.

The company believes a complex environment was key to making humans clever and resourceful, and it could have the same effect in shaping artificial intelligence too.

"Consider the alternative: if you or I had grown up in a world that looked like Space Invaders or Pac-Man, it doesn't seem likely we would have achieved much general intelligence," the researchers wrote in a blog post.

DeepMind has already created an AI agent that can navigate labyrinths using the Lab, but believes making the Lab open-source -- meaning developers can add to it as much as well as take from it -- will help to explore what it sees as the boundless possibilities of developing artificial intelligence in 3D.

"Our efforts so far have only barely scratched the surface of what is possible in DeepMind Lab," wrote the researchers. "There are opportunities for significant contributions still to be made in a number of mostly still untouched research domains."