Artificial Intelligence Discovers an Entirely New Way to Beat 'Q*bert'

Thursday, 01 March 2018 - 8:35PM
Technology
Artificial Intelligence
Thursday, 01 March 2018 - 8:35PM
Artificial Intelligence Discovers an Entirely New Way to Beat 'Q*bert'
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Flickr/Sam Howzit
Lots of early arcade games are still widely remembered today - Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, etc. The same can not be said of poor Q*bert, which is just as fun but nowhere near a household name these days.

However, some researchers studying machine learning at the University of Freiburg, Germany, showed the swearing orange ball thingy known as Q*bert (as well as several other desktop ports of old Atari games) to an artificial intelligence they were working on, to see if the AI could learn to play them.

Turns out, the AI quickly learned to both find and exploit a never before seen glitch in Q*bert which allowed it to earn nearly infinite points without actually beating the first level.



For those who've never played the game - lots of kids today might only recognize the character as the homeless bum from Wreck-It Ralph - the game takes place on a pyramid structure full of colored platforms, and your goal is to have Q*bert step on each of these platforms so they change colors, all while avoiding enemies like blobs and purple snakes (early arcade games can get weird).

What the AI discovered was an intricate pattern of movements from platform to platform, which eventually caused the game to glitch, and the platforms started to flicker and the score started increasing endlessly. One of the researchers, Miles Brundage, explained the glitch in more detail:

Opening quote
"First, it completes the first level and then starts to jump from platform to platform in what seems to be a random manner. For a reason unknown to us, the game does not advance to the second round but the platforms start to blink and the agent quickly gains a huge amount of points (close to 1 million for our episode time limit)."
Closing quote




This isn't the first time machine learning programs were taught to play video games, as there are now AI experts in Super Mario Bros, Mario Kart, and plenty of others. They don't usually find new exploits in games that are decades old, although it's worth stating that this version of Q*bert is an Atari port, and there's no telling whether this glitch exists in the original arcade version.

But if AlphaGo can beat the best Go player in the world at one of the world's most complex games, it shouldn't be too surprising that smaller programs can get really good at Q*bert.
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