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Sony’s racing car AI just destroyed its human competitors—by being nice (and fast)


But Sony soon discovered that speed alone wasn’t enough to make the GT Sophy a winner. The program outperformed all human drivers on an empty track, setting superhuman lap times on three different virtual tracks. However, when Sony tested the GT Sophy in a race against multiple human drivers, requiring intelligence and speed, the GT Sophy lost. The program is sometimes too aggressive, punishable by reckless driving, and too timid, giving way when not needed.

Sony regrouped, retrained its AI, and returned to the game in October. This time the GT Sophy wins easily. What makes the difference? Indeed, Sony brought larger neural networks, giving its programs more dynamic extraction capabilities. Ultimately, though, the difference comes down to giving the GT Sophy something, which Sony AI US head Peter Wurman calls “etiquette”: its ability to balance its aggressiveness and timidity, choosing the behavior that best suits the situation at hand.

That’s why the GT Sophy surpasses the Gran Turismo. Etiquette between drivers on the track is a concrete example of the dynamic, situation-aware behavior a robot can expect when interacting with humans, Wurman said.

Whether it’s on a manufacturing floor, home robots, or driverless cars, it’s useful for AI, which is better at interacting with people, to be aware of when to take risks and when to act safely.

“I don’t think we’ve learned the general principles of how to deal with human norms that you have to respect,” Wurman said. “But it’s a start and hopefully gives us some insight into the problem.”

game changer

GT Sophy is just the latest in a long line of AI systems that have beaten the world’s best human players in a variety of games, from chess and Go to video games like StarCraft and DOTA. But Gran Turismo offers Sony a new kind of challenge. Unlike other games, especially those that are turn-based, doing well in Gran Turismo means controlling the vehicle in real-time within the limits of what is physically possible, and getting up close and personal with other players trying to do the same.

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