DARPA looks to video games to develop warfighting strategies

May 19, 2020 //By Rich Pell
DARPA AI program looks to 'break' video games
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has launched a program that seeks to develop and apply AI to existing commercial open-world video games - such as StarCraft II and FreeCiv - in an effort to develop "winning warfighting strategies."

Such games are designed to be balanced, allowing players of equal skill to have equal chances at winning and results. In the agency's Gamebreaker Artificial Intelligence (AI) Exploration program, teams would test AI methods to quantitatively assess the game balance, identify underlying parameters that significantly contribute to balance, and explore new capabilities, tactics, and rule modifications that are most destabilizing to the game.

These could include the introduction of a new weapon, capability, or rule change, and the AI system must be able to predict the outcome of the change. In future conflicts, says the agency, Department of Defense (DoD) investment is designed to maximize imbalance to create an advantage or to seek equilibrium when an adversary is seeking an advantage.

AI algorithms inspired by Gamebreaker could, says the agency, help develop winning warfighting strategies when the adversary's objectives – i.e. the 'rules of the game' – are not clearly known. By exploiting game balance, Gamebreaker is designed to address an existing gap in AI and data analytics research as applied to current wargaming and simulation.

"If we can figure out a generic method to assess and then manipulate balance in commercial video games," says Lt. Col. Dan 'Animal' Javorsek, the Gamebreaker program manager in DARPA's Strategic Technology Office, "my hope is that we might then apply those AI algorithms to create imbalance in DoD simulated war games used to train warfighters for real-world battle."

A number of advanced commercial video games, says the agency, involve realistic command and control, campaign planning, and strategy development, which are very relevant to the military. Games of strategy like chess or weiqi - the Chinese name for Go - often related to military strategy also serve as the developmental playground for AI research. However, after conquering such sequential perfect information games, AI has moved into the much more dynamic environment of real-time strategy (RTS) video games.

Rather than starting from scratch, says the

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