Ubisoft's new AI wing melds gaming and scientific research

It hopes to share its AI work beyond its games.

Clement Sabourin/AFP/Getty Images

Game developers were researching AI well before it became a tech industry trend, but they haven't had much incentive to share their work with the academic world. It's a competitive advantage, after all. Ubisoft, however, is trying to find a happy middle ground. It recently established an AI research wing, La Forge, that aims to harmonize research for both gaming and science. The new unit has academics and Ubisoft employees working together on projects that will ideally advance gaming and lead to real-world breakthroughs that scientists can publish.

As an example, Ubisoft points to its work on creating a small-scale version of the San Francisco Bay Area for Watch Dogs 2. The company developed AI-guided cars and pedestrians to navigate a realistic urban environment, and that's potentially ideal for self-driving car research -- scientists could use Watch Dogs' technology to test autonomous driving in tricky situations (such as crowds) without having to put real cars on the road. At the same time, AI designed for real cars could lead to better in-game AI.

Other work includes AI that walks and moves more realistically (helpful for robots and prosthetics) and detecting toxic behavior in online communities.

La Forge is still young, so it's hard to know whether or not it'll keep both sides interested. If Ubisoft keeps its juicier AI breakthroughs to itself, academics might lose interest. Likewise, Ubi may jump ship if research teams don't produce enough relevant breakthroughs. If it pans out, however, this could be key to ending some of the isolation in AI development.