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This robotic hand taught itself to solve a Rubik’s Cube

Published Oct 15th, 2019 7:06PM EDT
robot rubiks cube
Image: OpenAI

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There are a number of very impressive examples of how artificial intelligence can accomplish things that humans simply can’t, but nothing is cooler than seeing AI married to robotics. OpenAI, the artificial intelligence research group that counts Elon Musk among its founders, has been working on honing the skills of its neural networks in various ways, but this one-handed robot demonstration is probably its most impressive feat yet.

The bot was tasked with solving a Rubik’s Cube with one human-style hand. This might not sound all that impressive, but it becomes a lot more interesting when you learn that the bot’s creators never actually told it how to accomplish its goal.

The pair of neural networks working in tandem to observe the cube and control the hand were simply instructed to make all the sides of the cube match. The AI then trained itself in a computer simulation, learning how the movements of the hand affect the cube and how gravity affects the cube as it’s being manipulated.

Multiple simulations can be carried out at the same time, and OpenAI says that this method of training has allowed the AI to gain thousands of years worth of experience in a very short period of time. Today, the robot can quickly solve the cube under just about any condition.

As the robot became more skilled at completing the task, the researchers ramped up the difficulty by adding external factors. The team experimented with a number of things, such as placing a rubber glove on the hand to hinder its movement, physically fiddling with the hand as it is trying to work, or even wrapping rubber bands around the bot’s fingers. All of this helped the robot become more reliable at solving the puzzle.

OpenAI says that this type of work is crucial in the progress of multi-purpose robots that will require dexterity on par with a human. Surely this will come in handy when the robots finally rise up and crush us.