Starcraft is a space-war computer game. It is widely regarded as the ultimate challenge for AI programs due to its complexity and rapid pace. Expectations for a match-up between a professional StarCraft player and sophisticated AI ratcheted up last year after an AI program beat a highly ranked human player at Go, one of the world’s most difficult board games. At the time, a number of AI experts pointed to StarCraft as the next target for an AI-versus-man showdown. Among them: Demis Hassabis, the founder and CEO of DeepMind, the AI-focused division of Alphabet that created the triumphant Go-playing AI program, AlphaGo.
Why human Starcraft players could win
Humans have lost to AI in Go and Chess. Go is considered a “perfect information game” because both players can see the whole board. In StarCraft, players can’t view the entire field of play and thus have less information to analyze when planning their moves. That matters because StarCraft is a real-time strategy game that requires players to manage resources, scout and patrol territories, and plan battles. (Players typically win by destroying all of their opponents’ structures or forcing them to surrender.) “When you play StarCraft, you have to respond very quickly to lots of uncertainties and variables, but I’ve noticed that AI like AlphaGo isn’t that good at reacting to unexpected scenarios,” Byun says.
In StarCraft players need to devise and execute long-term strategies to stay ahead of their opponents. “It’s still difficult to design AI that is really, really good at both short- and long-term decision-making,” he says.
Why AI could win
AI bots could defeat a pro because they never tire and can move much faster than humans. Skill in StarCraft hinges, in part, on how quickly players can tap a keyboard and click a mouse, a metric known as APM (“actions per minute”). Top human players can make several hundred of these commands a minute; AI programs can issue tens of thousands.