Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Denver news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Des Moines news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tampa Bay news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Charlotte news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

DeepMind's MuZero can master games without being told the rules. Credit: DeepMind

An AI company published research Wednesday that details a machine-learning agent that can figure out how to play and win multiple games with no prior instruction.

Why it matters: The new research shows that an AI can learn by observation, much as humans do, which will have real-world ramifications that go well beyond the chessboard.

Driving the news: In a paper published in the journal Nature, researchers at Google-owned DeepMind described the science behind MuZero, an AI agent that has shown the ability to "plan winning strategies in unknown environments," as the company described in a post.

  • MuZero mastered Go, chess, shogi and Atari games, performing as well as the company's earlier agent AlphaZero on the board games and beating all previous algorithms on video games like Pac-Man.

Background: DeepMind's earlier AlphaZero system relied on look-ahead search to rapidly select the best possible moves at a given time. But it only works if it has pre-programmed knowledge of how the game operates.

  • Other algorithms try to learn an accurate model of a game's environment, which they can then use to plan strategy. But visually rich games like Pac-Man — let alone anything an AI might encounter beyond the console — are difficult for even highly capable algorithms to model.

How it works: MuZero combines these two approaches by learning a model that relies only on the most important aspects of an environment, which it can then exploit with look-ahead search.

  • As MuZero tries one action after another, it learns the rules of the game while noticing the rewards and penalties, refining its methods until it hits on a winning strategy.
  • It's not unlike how a child — albeit one with infinite patience and Google's near-infinite computing budget — would learn to play a game.

What's next: MuZero's nimble efficiency means that it should have more success with real-world applications, and DeepMind says it's already using it to invent better video compression.

  • Other potential applications include protein design and automated vehicles.

The bottom line: Human beings' cognitive super power is our ability to generalize from what we learn and use that to plan ahead. If AIs can fully master that skill, the possibilities could be endless.

Go deeper: Workers need help to maximize new machine colleagues

Go deeper

Ina Fried, author of Login
Dec 22, 2020 - Technology

Video games offered a lifeline in 2020

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Video games have long provided players with a chance to escape reality, but in 2020, they took on much larger roles, serving as exercise companions and social gathering places — filling urgent needs in this coronavirus-altered year.

Why it matters: 2020's transformations will likely outlast the pandemic. While some people who boosted their video game use this year will scale back, others will keep gaming in a central place in their lives.

Stalemate over filibuster freezes Congress

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell's inability to quickly strike a deal on a power-sharing agreement in the new 50-50 Congress is slowing down everything from the confirmation of President Biden's nominees to Donald Trump's impeachment trial.

Why it matters: Whatever final stance Schumer takes on the stalemate, which largely comes down to Democrats wanting to use the legislative filibuster as leverage over Republicans, will be a signal of the level of hardball we should expect Democrats to play with Republicans in the new Senate.

Dave Lawler, author of World
1 hour ago - World

Biden opts for five-year extension of New START nuclear treaty with Russia

Putin at a military parade. Photo: Valya Egorshin/NurPhoto via Getty

President Biden will seek a five-year extension of the New START nuclear arms control pact with Russia before it expires on Feb. 5, senior officials told the Washington Post.

Why it matters: The 2010 treaty is the last remaining constraint on the arsenals of the world's two nuclear superpowers, limiting the number of deployed nuclear warheads and the bombers, missiles and submarines which can deliver them.

You’ve caught up. Now what?

Sign up for Mike Allen’s daily Axios AM and PM newsletters to get smarter, faster on the news that matters.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!