AI Sumo Wrestlers Could Make Future Robots More Nimble

The graphics are not dazzling, but a simple sumo-wrestling videogame released Wednesday might help make artificial-intelligence software much smarter.

Robots that battle inside the virtual world of RoboSumo are controlled by machine-learning software, not humans. Unlike computer characters in typical videogames, they weren’t pre-programmed to wrestle; instead they had to “learn” the sport by trial and error. The game was created by nonprofit research lab OpenAI, cofounded by Elon Musk, to show how forcing AI systems to compete can spur them to become more intelligent.

Igor Mordatch, a researcher at OpenAI, says such competitions create a kind of intelligence arms race, as AI agents confront complex, changing conditions posed by their opponents. That might help learning software pick up tricky skills valuable for controlling robots, and other real-world tasks.

In OpenAI’s experiments, simple humanoid robots entered the arena without knowing even how to walk. They were equipped with an ability to learn through trial and error, and goals of learning to move…

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