Just two months ago, Microsoft fully endorsed the educational potential of the popular PC game Minecraft when the company launched an Education Edition aimed at classroom use. In an apparent attempt to further Minecraft’s applications outside the gaming world, Microsoft has announced a public release for Project Malmo, the system that tests out Artificial Intelligence software within the confines of Minecraft.

Back in March, Microsoft provided the first glimpse into the work it was doing with Project Malmo by granting researchers and software specialists access to the system, but now an open-source license in a private preview shared on Github opens up Malmo to the public. The preview also contains a thorough tutorial on how to install your own A.I. script on the Minecraft platform.

Katja Hofmann, left, and Matthew Johnson, right, are team leaders on Project Malmo

With the new system, users can test out the capabilities and limitations of A.I. intelligence in the blocky Minecraft world. While these innovative test spaces for A.I. are customary, researchers hope that Minecraft specifically paves the way for totally new insight into A.I. problem solving and navigation. For example, Project Malmo uses overclocking, or the ability to carry out experiments faster than the usual pace of the game, to speed up the trial and error-based experiments that take up time and a lot of effort in the A.I. sphere.

While only time will tell if Minecraft’s gaming atmosphere advances the mission of A.I., the surprising combination points to a future world built by a hybrid of A.I. and human architects. Project Malmo, in that sense, is one of our first peeks at a future in which robots are employed to shape the human world. A.I. has automated certain architectural procedures and adapted to existing procedures — parametric architecture is a perfect example of this — but machines still aren’t smart enough to contribute original ideas for design or construction. Because few architectural projects are currently spearheaded by robots, Project Malmo will address the following research question: What happens when humans and artificial intelligence attempt to create built environments together?

While teaching A.I. to interact with humans in the same capacity that we interact with each other may seem far off, Jose Hernandez-Orallo, a professor at the Technical University of Valencia Spain who tested out the private preview of Malmo, says that “Minecraft is very close to the real world in many ways,” according to a post on Microsoft’s official blog. With Project Malmo now available to the public, we’ll see soon enough if there is truth in that statement.

Photos via Microsoft official blog, Flickr/Gabriel Ruiz