How to improve driverless cars? Why, with GTA 5, of course

Perhaps these things should not come as a surprise. Games are highly complicated environments, especially sandbox games. Just recently EvE Online was in the news since players can interact with real-world astronomical data and help in the search for exoplanets. And who is the king of the hill when it comes to sandbox? Grand Theft Auto, of course with its fleet of 262 vehicles available.

EvE Online
EvE Online has been itself a huge experiment since its inception.

Several people who are doing research in autonomous vehicles have come out in support of using virtual environments in games, specifically GTA V. Davide Bacchet, head of Nio, a self-driving car startup, said that it was not practical to rely just on data from the roads. “With simulation, you can run the same scenario over and over again for infinite times, then test it again.” In a game you can actually create hazardous conditions of the magnitude that is quite impossible to have in real life, and certainly not at your leisure. By using video game to train AI, scientists can have a controlled environment, which is a must-have when it comes to being able to reproduce results from experiments again and again.

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As Princeton University professor of operations research and financial engineering, Alain Kornhauser, says, this is “the richest virtual environment that we could extract data from”. Not to mention the safety moment, as most players of GTA V are well aware, the situations in GTA V can get pretty explosive occasionally.

While all this bodes well for those working on auto-driving AI, are there some hidden benefits for the games themselves? At this moment, perhaps no. But as the gaming environments become more and more complex, there is something to be said about a “simple” hobby becoming more and more important in bringing about numerous benefits for humanity in general.

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