Thursday, November 29, 2012

Call for Expressions of Interest: Hosting IEEE Conference on Computational Intelligence and Games 2015

The IEEE Conference on Computational Intelligence and Games is the premier annual event for researchers applying computational and artificial intelligence techniques to games. The domain of the conference includes all sorts of CI/AI applied to all sorts of games, including board games, video games and mathematical games. Recent editions have been held in Granda, Spain (2012) and Seoul, Korea (2011). The next CIG will be held in Niagara Falls, Canada (2013), very likely to be followed by Dortmund, Germany (2014). Since the start of the conference series in 2005, there has been a trend towards higher numbers of both submissions to and attendants at successive conferences.

We are now looking for expressions of interest for people willing to host CIG 2015. Given  the IEEE Computational Intelligence Society policy that conferences alternate between Europe, North America and Asia, we are looking for an Asian location for CIG 2015.

Expressions of interest should be sent to Julian Togelius ( by December 15; questions about the procedure should be directed to the same address. All expressions of interest will be forwarded to members of the Games Technical Committee for discussion and a straw poll, and the winning submitter will be invited to submit a formal application to host the conference to the IEEE Computational Intelligence Society's Conference Committee.

An expression of interest should be a text document of one or a few pages. Apart from the proposed location and dates, it should include the names and short biographies of a general chair and preferably some other proposed organisation committee members, e.g. program chair and local chair. It should also include a brief description of the proposed site in terms of facilities available, touristic attractions and communications. No budgetary information is necessary at this stage.

Past CIG conferences:

Games Technical Committee:

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Call for papers: FDG 2013

Foundations of Digital Games 2013
Call for papers, workshops, panels, experimental games and participation

14-17 May 2013
Chania, Crete, Greece

We invite researchers and educators to submit to FDG 2013 and share insights
and cutting-edge research related to game technologies and their use. FDG 2013
will include presentations of peer-reviewed papers, invited talks by
high-profile industry and academic leaders, panels, and posters. The conference
will also host a technical demo session, a Research and Experimental Games
Festival, and a Doctoral Consortium. The technical demo session will include
novel tools, techniques, and systems created for games. The Research and
Experimental Games Festival will showcase the latest experimental and research
games. The Doctoral Consortium serves as a forum for Ph.D. students to present
their dissertation research, exchange experiences with peers, discuss ideas for
future research and receive feedback from established games researchers and the
wider FDG community.

Important dates

Workshop proposals:
* Submission: 28 October 2012
* Notification: 11 November 2012

Papers, panel proposals, doctoral consortium:
* Submission: 10 December 2012
* Notification: 1 March 2013
* Camera-ready: 18 March 2013

Research and experimental game festival:
* Submission: 13 January 2013
* Notification: 22 February 2013
* Camera-ready: 18 March 2013

Posters and demos:
* Submission: 4 March 2013
* Notification: 18 March 2013
* Camera-ready: 31 March 2013

Full papers
Full papers must not exceed 8 pages in length. Authors should submit to either
the general conference or one of the following tracks:

* Game studies, social science track (games, players, and their role in society
  and culture)

* Game studies, humanities track (aesthetic, philosophical, and ontological
  aspects of games and play)

* Game design (methods, techniques, studies)

* Serious games (building and evaluating games for a purpose, learning in games)

* Game education (preparing students to design and develop games)

* Artificial intelligence (agents, motion/camera planning, navigation,
  adaptivity, content creation, dialog, authoring tools)

* Game technology (engines, frameworks, graphics, networking, animation)

* Interaction and player experience (game interfaces, player metrics, modeling
  player experience)

Panel submissions should be in the form of a 2-page extended abstract
describing the focus of the panel, providing a list of confirmed speakers, and
indicating their areas of expertise relative to the topic. We encourage both
debate-style panels that include representatives advocating several positions
on a topic of disagreement, and emerging-area style panels that consolidate and
explain recent work on a subject of interest to the FDG community.

Research and experimental games festival

The Festival is designed to showcase playable games that are experimental or
have a research component. Submitted games could be significant because they
are designed to answer a research question or experiment with the design
process, or because their technological components represent research
advancements. Works in progress are permitted, but the game will ideally
include at least one playable level (or comparable unit of play time). Works
that have not yet reached this stage may be more suitable for the conference
demo track. In addition to submitting the game, submissions should also include
a 2–4 page writeup of the project. The text should outline the game's research
context, and how the work demonstrates rigor in methodology and a contribution
to knowledge. Submissions should also include a link to the game hosted on your
own server or one of your choosing. We welcome and encourage works exploring a
variety of disciplinary approaches and methodologies, including
interdisciplinary collaborations. It is the responsibility of the contributor
to ensure all necessary information is accessible at all times during the
judging period (13 January 2013 to 22 February 2013).

Posters and demos
The poster and demo track provides a forum for late-breaking and in-progress
work to be presented to the community. Submissions should be in the form of a
2-page extended abstract. The interactive technical demo event will showcase
the latest tools, techniques, and systems created for games by academic or
industrial research groups. (Playable games should instead be submitted to the
Research and Experimental Games Festival.)

Workshop proposals
The conference workshops are full-day and half-day sessions focused on emerging
game-related topics. These workshops provide an informal setting for new
developments to be presented, discussed and demonstrated. We are particularly
interested in topics that bridge different communities and disciplines. Concise
workshop proposals (2 pages) should include: an extended abstract, the
objectives and expected outcome of the workshop, the planned activities, the
background of the organizer(s), the anticipated number of participants, and the
means for soliciting and selecting participants.

Doctoral consortium
We invite PhD students to apply to the Doctoral Consortium, a forum to provide
PhD students with early feedback on their research directions, from fellow
students, researchers, and experienced faculty in the area. The consortium is
intended primarily for PhD students who intend to pursue a career in academia,
who will soon propose, or have recently proposed, their research. To apply,
doctoral students should submit a CV, a 3-page extended abstract describing
their proposed research, and a support letter from their PhD advisor. The
abstract should address the goals of your research, the proposed approach and
how it differs from prior work, any results you may have, and your plans for
completing the work. Invited Doctoral Consortium students will give a
presentation and present a poster at the conference.

On behalf of the organizing committee:

General chairs: Georgios N. Yannakakis and Espen Aarseth
Program chairs: Kristine Jørgensen and James Lester

Proceedings chair: Mark J. Nelson
Workshops chair: Julian Togelius
Industrial relations chair: Alessandro Canossa
Local chairs: Kostas Karpouzis and Alexandros Potamianos

Track chairs: Kevin Kee, Rilla Khaled, Olli Leino,
              R. Michael Young, Jose Zagal (more to be announced)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Human intelligence is overrated

People often wonder when computers will become as intelligent as humans. This question assumes that being as intelligent as a human is a worthy goal for an artificial system. But really, are humans all that smart? I don't think so.

Humans are quite stupid in many ways, compared to computers. Let's start with the most obvious: they can't count. Ask a human to raise 3425 to the power of 542 and watch them sit there for hours trying to work it out. Ridiculous. The same goes for a number of other trivial tasks, such as calculating the average age in a population of 300 million. Shouldn't take more than a couple of seconds. Unless you are a human, in which case it'll probably take you years, and even then you would have made a number of errors.

Humans have almost no memory, either. Ask a human to give you the correct name and current address for a randomly chosen personal registration number (or national insurance number, or whatever the equivalent is in your country). Even if they have all the information in whatever format they prefer, it will still take them at least several seconds - and most humans would not even know where to get the information. Or ask a human to produce 100 URLs to websites talking about artificial intelligence, or even a complete list of everything that happened to them yesterday. Humans talk about "goldfish memory", but from the perspective of a computer the human and the goldfish aren't that far apart, capability-wise.

At this point, many humans will be protesting wildly and saying we are being terribly unfair to them. We are only choosing tasks that computers excel at, and ignoring those where humans have an advantage, such as motor control and pattern recognition.

Right. Computers can land a jet plane and fly an helicopter. In fact, almost any computer can do it, if you just load the right software. Very few humans can land a jet plane and even fewer can fly an helicopter. Sometimes humans fail spectacularly at these tasks. (It's hard to understand why anyone would want to be in a plane flown by a human, now that there are alternatives.) Computers can drive regular cars on-road and off-road, obeying all traffic regulations. There are many humans that can't even do that.

Speaking of pattern recognition, it's true that humans can recognise the faces of their friends with quite high accuracy. But then, humans only have a couple of hundred friends, at most. The face recognition software that Facebook uses can tell the faces of millions of people apart. Other pattern recognition algorithms can successfully match a scan of a human thumb to the right fingerprint in a database of millions.

Now let's take another activity that humans should be good at: game-playing. Games were invented by humans in order to entertain themselves, and as humans seem to find it entertaining to exercise their learning, motor and reasoning capabilities, games should be perfectly tailored to human intelligence. Humans should excel at game-playing, right? Well, no. Since 1997, the world Chess champion has been a computer. The situation is even more extreme for Checkers: computers have computed how to play the game perfectly, meaning that it is mathematically impossible to win over a computer unless you follow the very same strategy. Moving from board games to video games, we have a similar situation. There are AI players that play most levels of Super Mario Bros better than any known human, and computers kick human ass in first-person shooters like Unreal Tournament because humans have such lousy reaction times. Mind you, all these are games that were designed by humans for humans. It would be very easy to invent games that were so complicated that only computers could play them; computers could even invent such games automatically.

Other things that have been cited as pinnacles of human achievement are tying shoelaces and self-reproduction. But tying shoelaces is sort of pointless, it's an obsolete technology even for humans; why would you need shoelaces if you're a robot? And humans don't really know how to reproduce themselves. They know how to have a sex, which is quite a different thing and really sort of easy. The actual reproduction is down to various biochemical processes that humans don't even understand yet, much less can they replicate them.

Now, some humans reading this will be all up in arms, and accusing me of dishonesty and sophistry in trying to degrade human intelligence. I'm giving all these examples of computers being good (and humans bad) at performing very specific tasks and solving very specific problems, when the hallmark of real intelligence is to be able to perform well in a large variety of situations. According to this definition, the human would say, computers are not very intelligent: a chess-playing program cannot land a jet plane, and a face recognition program cannot play Super Mario Bros, nor can it do exponentiation.

This is true. But the argument goes both ways here as well: take an arbitrary human (such as yourself, if you happen to be human) and try placing this human in the cockpit of a landing jet plane, in a semiconductor factory, in the oval office of the White House, in the kitchen of a gourmet restaurant, on a horseback in Siberia, or equipped with only a spear in the middle of the Amazonas jungle. There are humans that have been programmed to do well in each of these situations, but it is very unlikely that the human you were thinking of (perhaps yourself) would know what to do in more than at most one of these situations.

So, compared to humans, computers seem to be doing quite well indeed. If man is the measure of all things, artificial intelligence research should be declared a success already. But that would be like saying that the development of the car would have been finished when cars first became as fast and reliable as horse-drawn carriages. As we know now, it was certainly possible to do better than that.

It will take some time, and much hard work, before we can say that computers are truly generally intelligent. But, to be fair, we should be careful with ascribing general intelligence to humans as well - humans are just not that smart. In particular we should be very careful with using human intelligence as a measuring yard for machine intelligence, and we should stop asking when computers will become as intelligent as humans. It seems that man is the measure in this particular case simply because we didn't know any other type of intelligence when we started thinking about the problem of artificial intelligence. Hopefully that will change soon.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Playing with games

Let's talk about digital games (computer games), their relation to play, their relation to you and to artificial intelligence. One way they could be divided up is the following: there are games you play, games you play with, games that play you and games that play with you. The first category is very common, the second rather common, the third a current research topic and the fourth an unknown territory awaiting (or perhaps provoking) new advances in artificial intelligence.

Games you play
These are the games that most people come to think of when you mention computer games, and that usually dominate sales charts. Games like Doom, Asteroids, Tetris, StarCraft, Angry Birds and Call of Duty. Games of progression (Juul) where there are goals and there is a clear sense of what it means to perform the game better or worse. Games where "instrumental play" (Taylor), i.e. playing the game like you were performing a sport, is possible (but not necessary). In these games, the rules are set and enforced by the game and it's up to you as a player to do your best according to what the game thinks you should do and within the possibility space the game affords.

It is very common that these games feature some sort of artificial intelligence, typically in the role of controlling the opponents and allies in order to provide a challenge. But there are also examples of AI-based dynamic difficulty adjustment and other forms of experience management, such as the AI Director in Left 4 Dead. Additionally, AI techniques can be used during the design and development phases of such games, especially for procedural content generation.

Games you play with
Some games have less explicit goals, less clear sense of progression and perhaps less structure overall. These are games which are sometimes describes as more of toys than games, and which when replayed from scratch may play out completely differently. Games of emergence, like Sim City, Minecraft and The Sims. As these games try to hard to make you feel like you can do whatever the hell you want, you are encouraged to express your own desires, dreams and whims using the mechanics of the game. Of course, no games have so far been made where you can actually do whatever you want; therefore, you are likely to run up against the limits of the simulation and game mechanics sooner or later. (Sooner, if you are of the "non serviam" player type.) Of course, most of the games that are meant to be played can be played with with varying degrees of success. For example, you can decide to build sculptures instead of clearing lines in Tetris, and you can enact little dances in Doom. The very fuzzy boundary beetwen games you play and games you play with can be further illustrated with how hard it is to classify Civilization or Skyrim as one or the other of these.

There are more potential roles for artificial intelligence in games you play with than there are in games you play. Because of the impossibility of scripting a free-form game, they are often crucially relying on a complicated simulation of the game world, many parts of which could be called AI. A good example is the use of "smart objects" that match characters' needs with provided services in The Sims. Given the risk of such free-form simulations getting out of hand due to emergent unbalance, there is also a role for experience managers here (e.g. causing an earthquake if your city is doing too well).

Games that play you
You can become a challenge for the game. That is, if the game sees as its objective to make you happy, to keep you challenged, to make you sad, to keep you playing or perhaps to make you stop playing. You might not be inclined to do as the game wants you to do, and then the game needs to manipulate you. Luckily (for the game) the game knows quite a lot about you, as you keep feeding it with information all the time, via the keyboard, mouse or gamepad interface you use to interact with the game. (The game might also have other nefarious ways to glean information about what you feel and think, such as watching what you do via a Kinect device or webcam, or measuring your stress level via galvanic skin response.) Thus, the game can take actions by introducing new elements, new levels, changing music and art, distributing rewards, changing difficulty level and behaviour of in-game characters etc, and measure the success of these actions by your behaviour. This is isomorphic to how you take actions such as jumping, shooting, looting and choosing dialogue options when you play a game, and measure the success of these actions through score, progress meters, achievements etc.

Games that play you is at the center of our AI research program here at IT University of Copenhagen. Georgios and me recently wrote a survey/position paper that outlines our view of how to achieve such games. We call our approach "Experience-driven Procedural Content Generation". This is a very AI-heavy approach, where various AI techniques are used both for modelling what you think and feel while playing the game, predicting what you will do under various circumstances, and creating new game content that will bring the game closer to its goal according to the derived model. An example of this approach is our work with a version Super Mario Bros with adaptive levels. This game wants to keep you entertained. Therefore it has let hundreds of players play pairs of different levels, and asked the players which of the levels were most entertaining. When you play it, it will match your play style with its model of player experience, and deliver a freshly created level which it thinks will keep you optimally entertained.

Games that play with you
Remember the games you used to play as a kid? Not the digital games or board games, but the ones where you never quite knew in advance what the game was about or what the rules were, because the basic premise was "to play". The ones where you went "let's pretend I'm an astronaut, and this is our spaceship" and your friend went "ok, but I'm a space knight and I ride next to your spaceship on my space horse!". Now that you're a grown-up you don't do this very often, except if you engage in improvisational theatre. In particular, you don't do this while playing games on your computer. The basic idea of a digital game is that you play against or with a stable set of rules that is more or less predictable and therefore "fair"; if you fail (or things play out differently than expected) it was your own fault or simply bad luck. The game enforces these rules with such strictness that anything that works is correct. Any change in the rules during the game session (such as removing your jump ability or making your friends your enemies) is carefully scripted.

There are some attempts to undermine the status of rules in computer games, for example the game B.U.T.T.O.N (see Wilson's article) where the rules are underspecified. Players are required to invent new rules, which are not observable or enforceable by the game, as they play. However, what this game does is simply to reduce the role of the computer in the game, and mixing in more of classic non-digital play. The game does not express any desire on its own, and is even more of a mindless automaton than most of the classic games you play. This is of course unappealing from the perspective of an AI aficionado interested in technological progress, as is the fact that the game needs to be played in physical space with other humans.

Imagine that we could replace these people with AI, and integrate this system into the game itself. Imagine a game that is actually playful. A game that wants to play with you, not because it wants to fulfil some sort of goal (keeping you playing, or entertained), but because it wants to keep itself entertained, and explore the possibility space of the play session together with you. A game that treats you as a means, not as an end. That could refuse to play with you if you are too boring or hard to play with. That gives you the feeling of really playing with someone, not just against a ruleset.

Unfortunately, we don't really know how yet how to create a game that plays with you. How can we implement a desire in the game for having fun and a lust for exploring the possibilities of interaction with a player? How can we implement the concrete mechanisms where the game co-creates the rules with you and plays along, both constructively and obstructively? Actually, this is not unfortunate at all. It means that we have a new research problem for AI and games, and yet another angle of attack on the elusive problem of artificial intelligence. For we could surely not have any real artificial intelligence that was not capable of playing and enjoying itself.

One idea for how to approach this problem is Schmidhuber's theory of artificial curiosity, where agents choose what to learn so that they optimise their predicted learning rate. There is also related work in evolutionary and developmental robotics. Another strand of work which could potentially inform the development of games that play with you is work in mixed-initiative procedural content generation, such as Tanagra and Sketchaworld. In these systems, the designer and the software take turns to work on the game content, typically so that the software acts as an resourceful and inventive assistant to the designer. Last year, I published a paper outlining a simple system that tries to do mixed-initiative rule generation while you're playing the game. Or perhaps you're playing the system, and the game emerges from the play session. The system tries to understand what rules you're playing according to, and then enforcing these rules, which might force you to play differently (especially if it has misunderstood you) and see the flaws in your implicit design concept. What is missing from this system is intentions and desires on part of the system; the game is still trying to please you, rather than itself. I should get to work right away on changing this.

This blog post was inspired in part by Sicart's article Against Procedurality, and the opposition it sets out between rule-centric play/interpretation and player-centric play/interpretation. I have nothing against any of these, and think that both are interesting. However, I think that it's important to point that just because something is procedural, it's not necessarily rigid, predictable and intentionally designed; it could be adaptive, emergent and have a will of its own.