Scientists Give Super Mario Artificial Intelligence

Super Mario
University of Tubingen

Researchers at the University of Tubingen in Germany have reprogrammed the classic Gameboy platform game Super Mario Advance so that Mario can play the game all by himself. The team of cognitive scientists endowed Mario with cutting edge artificial intelligence, allowing him to listen, speak, learn and even experience 'emotions'.

Not only can Mario respond to vocal commands and questions, but researchers have given the Nintendo character the ability to build up knowledge based on previous experience that allows him to respond appropriately to specific situations.

Mario also has feelings that give him motivation to explore his world. For example Mario learns that if he jumps on a coin it disappears, his coin number increases and he is no longer hungry. Therefore whenever Mario is then hungry, he knows that he has to seek out a coin.

"We took a Mario clone that has been developed by others and then we gave the agent basic knowledge of what his behavior does," says Martin Butz, head of cognitive modeling at the University of Tubingen and one of the pioneers of the research.

"We have equipped Mario with an internal motivated state, for example to collect sufficient coins whilst he is interacting with the game. We give him internal needs - what we call a constant homeostatic state - like hunger, and whenever this equilibrium becomes unbalanced Mario learns to respond based on his previous interactions with objects," Butz continued.

Mario also learns how to formulate this experience into speech. Butz says: "He can speak by speech generation, and can understand a sentence, which he then passes back to his knowledge base. Originally this base is basically empty, but as Mario interacts with more objects he builds up knowledge rules. These rules can grow as big as the combinations that are out there in the world."

According to Butz, the project was partially started as a bit of fun, but also as a means to illustrate how learning principles from cognitive science and psychology can be implemented and used in an artificial environment.

"Our motivation was to illustrate what cognitive science does research on and if these principles can be implemented and used to generate live agents that are autonomous, curious, interested about their world and then able to communicate this," he says.

Whilst at the moment this AI-possessing Mario is only a prototype, according to the researchers it may soon be made publicly available.

"AI could be incorporated into any game where you have a simulated environment and it acts with stuff, this particular technology is not attuned or scripted to Mario," he says.