Sony’s A.I. just beat top human gamers in the smash hit Gran Turismo video game

First it was chess. Now, artificial intelligence is conquering video games.

Sony has developed A.I. software that just triumphed over some top human race-car drivers in the hit video game Gran Turismo Sport.

The consumer electronics and entertainment giant revealed the victory and an accompanying Nature article about the feat on Wednesday during a media briefing.

Sony CEO Kenichiro Yoshida said the accomplishment is the first major project undertaken by the company’s A.I. research team, which was created in 2020.

Yoshida said that Sony’s A.I. team built its A.I. agent, dubbed Gran Turismo Sophy, with the help of the company’s video game studio Polyphony Digital, publisher of the Gran Turismo franchise. 

Sony AI chief operating officer Michael Spranger said the company held two races between its A.I. and four leading human Gran Turismo Sport players. In the first head-to-head race held in July 2021, the human video game players overwhelmingly beat Sony’s A.I. software, but the A.I. trampled the humans in the second head-to-head race, conducted in October.

In Nature, the paper’s authors describe how their A.I. was able to perform complex feats including corner passing techniques that used the slipstream caused by other vehicles to “disrupt the draft of a following car, block, and execute emergency maneuvers.”

Sony used the A.I. technique of deep reinforcement learning, in which computers learn through trial and error, to train the A.I. in the nuances of race-car driving. Researchers from firms like Google’s DeepMind unit and OpenAI have used the deep reinforcement learning technique to create powerful A.I. systems that beat human players in board games like Go and computer strategy games like Dota 2. Those recent gaming victories represent significant advancements in A.I. following IBM’s Deep Blue system that defeated world champion Garry Kasparov in chess in 1997.

Spranger contrasted Sony’s video game A.I. with other similar systems, saying it represents a breakthrough because of racing’s unique challenges. Those include having to quickly anticipate opponents’ reactions while taking into account the “complex aerodynamic interactions between cars.”

The achievement underscores A.I.’s continuing advancements and how companies like Google, Facebook, and others publicize those advancements as a sign of their technical prowess. It also highlights how video-game makers are exploring how A.I. can be used to create more compelling video games. Game publishers and technology companies like Electronic Arts and Unity have all publicized their belief that A.I. could help developers create more realistic worlds with more lifelike characters.

Sony executives were vague about specific plans to use A.I. in their games, but said the technology will be crucial to the company’s future.

“We can’t wait to see what lies ahead as the worlds of artificial intelligence and interactive entertainment are bridged,” Spranger said.

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