The so-called "project Malmo" has already been accessible to a small group of computer science researchers for some months, but now it is freely available on the developer platform GitHub.
Microsoft bought Minecraft — an addictive game that allows players to move, interact and build complex objects in a 3D blocky world-in 2014. It is now clear that the Seattle based tech giant had spotted the software's potential for AI applications.
According to Microsoft, the new Minecraft-based platform "Project Malmo" will come in handy to research "general artificial intelligence" — that is a computer that can engage in eminently human activities such as learning new things, having a conversation, making decisions and carrying out tasks.
Teaching a machine to do that requires a lot of repetition, therefore Project Malmo will allow scientists to design bots who can practice talking with each other and with humans.
But there's more.
Minecraft's peculiar life-like world will enable AIs to learn how to make objects and buildings (although only virtual ones) and to rove around in a sprawling world, gradually learning how to effectively navigate complex environments.
"Minecraft is very close to the real world in many ways," said Jose Hernandez-Orallo, one of the scientists that tried the platform said in a statement. "There are so many possibilities."
A key feature that will help research is Minecraft's "overclocking mode"- the possibility to speed up time in the Minecraft space. According to Evelyne Viegas, director of AI outreach at Microsoft Research, using this setting is like "accelerating the pace of those experiments," cutting on bots' learning times.
Finally, the platform will make it possible for scientists to use a common benchmark for their experiments: that will allow them to test and compare their creations in the same (virtual) world.