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Humans are still better than AI at Dota 2—for now

A team of professional video gamers prevailed over a group of cutting-edge AI algorithms in a landmark galactic mêlée held last night.

The game, which took place at the International Dota 2 Championships in Vancouver, Canada, showed that humans are still a lot smarter than AI software at complex tasks. The algorithms have previously defeated several teams of less-skilled players.

Five stars: The AI algorithms were developed by OpenAI, an AI research nonprofit funded by Elon Musk, Sam Altman, and others. Dubbed the OpenAI Five, each algorithm is a neural network that learns to play the game through what’s known as reinforcement learning.

Battle plan: Dota 2 involves two teams battling for territory within a sprawling space-themed battle arena. The game is challenging for AI programs because it is complex, requires teamwork, and unfolds over time (making it tricky to gauge successful progress). During last night’s match, the OpenAI Five exhibited some weird behavior before suffering a narrow defeat. Overall, it acquitted itself well against some of the world's best human players.

Cheat codes: Some have noted that, instead of relying on a view of the screen as a human player does, the OpenAI Five use the game’s application programming interface (API). These means the algorithms can instantly access more information about a game. Still, that shouldn’t detract from what is an impressive achievement for AI, despite the loss.