‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ Being Used to Train AI

Researchers at the OpenAI institute are using the original Sonic the Hedgehog video game to teach AI how to think about previously unseen, complex scenarios and overcome them. Surely it’s only a matter of time until the blue blur helps computers control the world then, right?

Well, apparently not, according to the researchers in the video below, but it’s certainly an interesting experiment. The OpenAI research team, which has previously demonstrated how AI can master P2P video games such as Dota, is currently turning its attention to the 16-bit Sonic series in a new open contest it is running.

But, while past AI experiments have focused on reaching “an extreme mastery” of a video game, the intention with Sonic is to “focus on reaching a competent level [of play] really quickly, in the same way as a human would.” So instead of simply understanding a set of rules and being challenged to compete with others (or to complete a series of tasks that involve repetitive action), here the AI is being challenged to navigate a complex level map, filled with traps, that it has never seen before.

The real task however, is to test whether an AI will ‘remember’ how to overcome individual traps (say, spikes or a loop-de-loop) and apply the solution it creates (to jump over them, or to take a running start to gain enough inertia to clear) across all levels it attempts (from Green Hill Zone to Spring Yard Zone and beyond). This is what’s known as ‘transfer learning’, and can mark a significant step forward for AI development – at least, for those built for playing video games.

Watch the video below by Mashable, which goes into some extra detail on the nitty gritty. It’s super-fascinating – especially the part where the researchers start talking about how AIs under pressure had the potential to glitch the game and use boundary breaks in Sonic 1 to dart through chunks of a stage.

The OpenAI Retro Contest for Sonic the Hedgehog runs until June 5, so if you’re particularly techy and know how to code, why not give it a bash?

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Founder of The Sonic Stadium and creator/co-organiser of the Summer of Sonic convention. Loves talking about Sonic the Hedgehog in his spare time. Likes Sonic Colours a little too much for his own good, apparently.


  1. It does look like it would be the perfect kind of platform for something like that. I had a friend who learned the same way in college but with DOOM. It seems like all games of that era or perfect learning platforms. Probably because things have gotten so advanced since then.

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