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Forget Chess—the Real Challenge Is Teaching AI to Play D&D

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A Dungeon Master's book, and 12-sided dice.

Dungeon Masters are good tests for artificial intelligence because they are are narrators who can improvise a story based on the play of the game.

Credit: David Kasnic/The New York Times/Redux

Fans of games like Dungeons & Dragons know that the fun comes, in part, from a creative Dungeon Master—an all-powerful narrator who follows a storyline but has free rein to improvise in response to players' actions and the fate of the dice.

This kind of spontaneous yet coherent storytelling is extremely difficult for artificial intelligence, even as AI has mastered more constrained board games such as chess and Go. The best text-generating AI programs too often produce confused and disjointed prose. So some researchers view spontaneous storytelling as a good test of progress toward more intelligent machines.

An attempt to build an artificial Dungeon Master offers hope that machines able to improvise a good storyline might be built. In 2018, Lara Martin, a graduate student at Georgia Tech, was seeking a way for AI and a human to work together to develop a narrative and suggested Dungeons & Dragons as a vehicle for the challenge. "After a while, it hit me," she says. "I go up to my adviser and say 'We're basically proposing a Dungeon Master, aren't we?' He paused for a bit, and said 'Yeah, I guess we are!'"

Narratives produced by artificial intelligence offer a guide to where we are in the quest to create machines that are as clever as us. Martin says this would be more challenging than mastering a game like Go or poker because just about anything that can be imagined can happen in a game.


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