Computer Learns To Play With Itself By Reading Manuals

July 14, 2011

There are many important, terrible things we need to teach computers so they can take command of robots. Why? Since zombies aren't really going to happen, a robot uprising is our best hope of making the '80s seem prophetic instead of sad and neon-colored.

Anyway, we made an important step today in teaching a computer how to play with itself. No, that's not what we meant. Researchers at the University College London recently taught a computer to read manuals, because that's what we want computers to do, have independent thought processes that don't need us to do things.

The computer in question used trial and error to figure out what it had to do, by scanning the manual and “thinking” of words, and then seeing if those words came up in the manual. Despite some blundering around, it managed to figure out 80 percent of the steps necessary to actually install some software.

So, naturally, deciding that teaching it how to read and figure out tasks on its own wasn't enough, the researchers uploaded the notoriously difficult strategy game Civilization, for purely scientific reasons (i.e. giggles). Turns out, a randomly blundering computer was already at 46%...and with the new manual reading software, it went up to 79%.

That's great, guys, teaching it to read and teaching it military strategy in one fell swoop. You want to just upload some of our major weaknesses? Maybe an algorithm to figure out missile launch codes? Our only hope is that this thing, being British, is too polite to actually kill us and will just enslave us all. At least we won't have to worry about unemployment...

Photo: Eduardo Parra/Getty Images