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Players of China’s most popular game are training Tencent’s AI

Honor of Kings is pitting players against an AI program named after the Monkey King in the name of science.

An Honor of Kings tournament in Haikou, Hainan, China, on June 3, 2018. Source: Tuchong. An Honor of Kings tournament in Haikou, Hainan, China, on June 3, 2018. Source: Tuchong.

It’s been three years since Google’s AlphaGo marked a new era in artificial intelligence by beating champion Lee Sedol in Go, an ancient Chinese board game. Now AI is moving on to video games as players of China’s most popular title recently found out.

Honor of Kings is a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) mobile game inspired by League of Legends. The fantasy role playing game, known internationally as Arena of Valor, has 70 million daily active users. It also has an AI player called Wukong, known in Chinese as Jiewu, and gamers in China got a chance to test their abilities against it during the first four days of May.

Developed by the Tencent AI Lab, Wukong is an AI program seeking to use games to improve its learning capabilities and make them more human-like.

MOBA games like Honor of Kings involve planning, strategy, and complex decision-making: Gamers need to coordinate with their team to capture the opposing team’s turrets and base. This is why Tencent, the world’s largest gaming company, believes that complex games can be a key step to achieving one of the ultimate AI goals—artificial general intelligence (AGI).

AGI is the hypothetical ability of a machine to mimic human intelligence by being able to learn and solve any problem a person can. And Tencent isn’t the only company trying to get there with games.

Google’s DeepMind, the division behind AlphaGo, is working on an AI that plays StarCraft II, an e-sports title considered one of the most challenging real-time strategy games. OpenAI, another US-based company, used the MOBA Dota 2 as a research platform.

Tencent’s recent experiment is the first time the Chinese tech company has made Wukong available for anyone to play against. But this isn’t the first time the AI named after China’s mythical Monkey King has gone up against human players.

At last year’s China Joy conference, the program beat 99.8% of top amateur players. And then it beat professional Honor of Kings players last August when it appeared at an e-sports tournament in Kuala Lumpur.

The company also announced that Tencent AI Lab and Honor of Kings launched an AI and gaming open platform called Kaiwu with the goal of involving universities in its research.

With the chance to go up against the AI player now over, it seems Wukong has learned a thing or two. Gamers who played against Wukong said the game got really hard by the time they reached the fourth level (out of the game’s six levels). But Tencent’s experiment did offer some tips on how to beat the AI: Invade aggressively, capture the turrets fast, and choose the right virtual shoes for your game character.

This story was originally published by Abacus News.