In Brief
Every year, individual hobbyists and larger teams build artificially-intelligent bots to compete in StarCraft. This year, Facebook sneaked into the competition - so how did they stack up?

Every year, artificial intelligence (AI) software bots compete and battle it out in the video game Universe of StarCraftArtificially intelligent aliens swarm and slaughter, showcasing their off-world abilities sans human meddling. But a new player representing (of all things) Facebook entered into this arena — CherryPi, an AI player designed by a team of eight people from or involved with Facebook’s AI research lab. This foray into multiplayer gaming established Facebook as direct competition for others, like Google and even individual hobbyists (three of whom finished in the top three places).

A StarCraft Tournament with human players. Image Credit: Flickr.
A StarCraft Tournament with human players. Image Credit: Flickr

Gabriel Synnaeve, a researcher at Facebook, described CherryPi as a “baseline” prototype to learn and build from, he said, “We wanted to see how it compares to existing bots, and in particular test if it has flaws that need correcting.”

Some expect Facebook and Google to lag behind independently-designed bots for awhile, despite the tech giants’ inexhaustible resources; “For a couple of years I predict the hobbyist, mostly rule-based bots, will still do well,” said David Churchill, a professor of the Memorial University of Newfoundland, which organized AIIDE, an academic conference that includes contests like the StarCraft competition.

In this competition, Facebook’s stealthy AI bot placed sixth out of 28 total competitors. The winning bot, ZZZKBot, was created by Chris Coxe, a software developer in Perth, Australia. So, while Facebook is relatively new to this venture, it’s learning fast. Google’s DeepMind team is also formidable, to say the least; but whichever giants emerge the victors, it’s without doubt they’ll still have much to learn from individual coders, whose passion has become an industry-pivoting (virtual) blood-fest.