A dozen or so sleep-roofed buildings cling to the edges of an open-pit mine. High above them, on top of an enormous rock arch, sits an inaccessible house. Elsewhere, a railway on stilts circles a group of multicolored tower blocks. Ornate pagodas decorate a large paved plaza. And a lone windmill turns on an island, surrounded by square pigs. This is Minecraft city-building, AI style.
Minecraft has long been a canvas for wild invention. Fans have used the hit block-building game to create replicas of everything from downtown Chicago and King’s Landing to working CPUs. In the decade since its first release, anything that can be built has been.
Since 2018, Minecraft has also been the setting for a creative challenge that stretches the abilities of machines. The annual Generative Design in Minecraft (GDMC) competition asks participants to build an artificial intelligence that can generate realistic towns or villages in previously unseen locations. The contest is just for fun, for now, but the techniques explored by the various AI competitors are precursors of ones that real-world city planners could use.