Posts Tagged 'Google'

Beep bOOp – The Rise of the Bots

OK, so this happened:
Google’s AlphaGo computer program beats Fan Hui, the European Go Champion. Go is a highly complex 2,500 year old board game and the algorithm’s victory over an expert human player is widely considered to be a brilliant breakthrough and the next “grand achievement” towards the creation of a general AI. The news has brought on the usual torrent of discussions and predictions about the role of AI’s in human society -ranging from blissful utopia to a future full of nightmarish killbots. All the neck-stretching aside, at this very moment, game-playing algorithms have already infiltrated online games like the hugely popular card game Hearthstone and are posing as humans and beating human opponents as well. OK, maybe I shouldn’t be so dramatic. These software programs, or “bots” are nothing compared to the likes of AlphaGo, but the consequences to the game and the reactions from the gaming community are interesting nonetheless.

These weak AI systems, or more commonly known as “bots” or “cheat bots” are installed by players themselves, and they pose a challenge for the entire gaming industry, from FPS’s (first person shooter) to online poker to MMORPG’s (massive multiplayer online role playing game), bots are everywhere where there is an unfair advantage to be gained. This is what the Blizzard Hearthstone wiki says about it: Bots are player accounts being run by an automated piece of software, which calculates and makes moves on behalf of the player, without need for player intervention. Using third party programs to automate Hearthstone play is a violation of the game’s Terms of Use, and accounts that are found to be making use of bots will be permanently closed, without warning.” (more on that here)

The program runs the game without interference from a human player. He could be sitting in a bar talking to a real girl while his computer plays the game and earns him online currency, or “gold”, an activity called “farming”. Hearthstone players for example are beginning to suffer from these algorithms that are increasingly good at beating humans and pretending to be humans in more sneaky ways. There are even stories of bots reaching the “legend” rank of Hearthstone, something only achieved by less than 0,5% of the more than 30 million Hearthstone players worldwide. Glitzy websites offer paid bots that guarantee gold income on your account and that you can customize to your own way of playing.  The gaming communities’ online forums, in defense, contain tips and tricks to recognize bots and ways of dealing with their often flawed ways of playing. There is a lot of paranoia and banning of accounts and players are quick to cry bot, which sometimes leads to hilarious misunderstandings. The important questions that are beginning to surface: What are the effect of bots on the “playability” of a game? (imagine a game no longer played by humans, just bots playing bots into eternity) How do we recognize bots from humans? What if players benefit from pretending to be a bot, to gain an advantage?

As a player I can tell you the experience of realizing the guy or girl you thought you were playing turns out to be a computer program is quite unnerving. Of course there is some anger: what a cheater! Ruining other peoples gameplay for your selfish benefit! But honestly, it also adds an unexpected layer of intensity: I am not just fighting for me, I am fighting for humanity itself! SkyNet needs to be destroyed! Long live the Resistance!

Jokes aside, automated algorithms and eventually general AI’s will undoubtedly play a huge role in our lives in the future, but while we are already looking forward to that future some little things are beginning to stir at our feet.


Further interesting reading and watching:

“Keeping Bots out of Online Games” by Philippe Golle and Nicolas Ducheneaut (available online )

for those frequent visitors to the tavern: