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Microsoft has just demonstrated how artificial intelligence can be integrated into numerous software applications by writing code on the fly.
Minecraft Textures

At the Microsoft Build developer conference today, the company's chief technology officer, Kevin Scott, demonstrated an AI aid for the game Minecraft. The non-player character within the game is powered by the same machine learning technology Microsoft has been testing to create auto-generated software code. This feat suggests how recent advances in AI could revolutionize personal computing in years to come, replacing interfaces that you tap, type, and click to navigate into interfaces that you are in a conversation with.

The Minecraft agent responds appropriately to commands typed by turning them into working code behind the scenes using the API that is used by the software game. The AI model that controls the bot was developed using large amounts of code and natural language text Then, it was shown the API specifications for Minecraft, along with a few usage examples. The AI model that runs the base will automatically generate the code required to direct the agent towards the player whenever a player tells it "come here." The bot was able to perform more complicated tasks in the Build demo, like retrieving items and combining them into new things. Because the model was trained on natural language and code, it can even answer simple questions about how to construct things.

Although it's not clear how reliable the system will work outside of the demo, similar tricks can be employed to make other applications respond when spoken or typed commands are given.

Microsoft has developed an AI coding tool named GitHub Copilot on top of the same technology. It automatically suggests code when a developer begins typing, or when responding to the comments made to a piece of code. Scott says Copilot is the first of many "AI-first products" from Microsoft and other companies to come in the near future. Scott says that AI-based code writing "allows you to think in a different way about software development, so that you can clearly define your goals for something you want to achieve."

Scott does not provide specific examples, but it could be the case in the future. For instance, the creation of a version of Windows that finds a particular document and sends it to a colleague whenever you request it, or an AI-imbued version of Excel that converts a spreadsheet into charts when you are asked. "We're gonna witness many and many huge productivity gains for all sorts of cognitive tasks that none of us especially enjoys," Scott says.

AI is able to accomplish tasks like translating text, transcribing audio, and classifying images. New AI programs are capable of producing coherent text-like computer code due to recent algorithmic advancements and massive amounts of computer power.

The Minecraft bot was built using an AI model called Codex that was developed by OpenAI the AI company that received funding from Microsoft in the year 2019. Codex was trained with natural language text from the internet and billions of lines from GitHub the most popular software repository that is owned by Microsoft.

Microsoft's Copilot was made available to a restricted number of testers in June 2021 and is currently being utilized by more than 10,000 developers who are producing, on average, around 35 percent of their code in popular languages such as Python and Java using Copilot, Microsoft says. Microsoft plans to make Copilot free for everyone to download this summer. To create something similar to the Minecraft bot, developers will require the underlying AI model, Codex.

Both Codex and Copilot have created a bit of anxieties among developers who fear they could be eliminated from a job. The Minecraft demo may trigger similar fears. However, Scott says that the feedback received from Copilot has been largely positive and suggests that it simplifies more complex code tasks. "If you speak to a developer who uses a Copilot and they'll tell you that this is such a wonderful tool that it's amazing,'" he says.