More than just a game

As part of his Honors College curriculum, 18-year-old sophomore Mike Garcia works closely with Associate Professor Larry Holder in developing software to control robots during computer game simulations.

Mike Garcia

Mike Garcia utilizes his native, human intelligence to understand the world of artificial intelligence, the science and engineering of creating machines and computer programs that can think.

He's starting the heavy-duty research early, as an 18-year-old computer science and engineering sophomore. After earning dual high school and college credit in the UTA Honors Summer Academy, Garcia skipped his senior year at Arlington's Martin High School. Two university scholarships—the Honors Presidential Scholarship and the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Research Scholarship—also helped him make the jump to college.

"I didn't know I was going to graduate early, until about a month before school was over," he said. "But as it turned out, I was able to skip my senior year and begin college with 12 credit hours. My best friend convinced me that my senior year would be more or less wasted in high school. While I don't think it would have been exactly wasted, I know that I've learned more in college than I could have in high school."

Much more. Particularly about super-smart computers.

Garcia studies how computers learn by playing games. Under the direction of Associate Professor Larry Holder, he is developing a wireless intelligent agent simulation environment (WISE). They have installed a wireless network on the second floor of Nedderman Hall and are developing software to control robots and make split-second decisions during game simulations. The experimental interface is being built on top of the gaming engine of the popular Half-Life computer video game, an intense action game set in a federal research facility.

"The players will be of three types—robots, humans and software agents," Garcia explained. "The software agents are electronic entities that can be seen by people viewing the simulation over computers, or by the actual players in the game through wearable computers. I'm working on modifying the existing Half-Life gaming engine in a way that other people would be able to connect to the server and see the game through a three-dimensional perspective."

So, spectators could watch the game over the Internet. Bring on the chips and drinks.

Garcia and Dr. Holder are exploring the Half-Life world not only for the love of the game, but to achieve serious research goals.

"The WISE project investigates automated decision making, multi-agent cooperation and learning in a wireless, simulated game environment," Dr. Holder said.

"The main purpose of this game will be to provide students working on artificial intelligence a playing field to test their software," Garcia added.

Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, the WISE project represents another step forward in advancing the development of artificial intelligence.

Already, researchers have demonstrated that computers are capable of tutoring, reasoning and other amazing feats. Last year, interactive robot pets—with faces that express emotions—became commercially available.

They bark and purr. With a few more years experience, perhaps Garcia can make them shed.


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