In Gran Turismo, Sony’s new AI driver achieves reliable superhuman’ race times

From chess to Go to poker, AI machines have beaten humans in a variety of games. The robots can now set a new record in the famous racing video game Gran Turismo.
Sony said today that its researchers have created GT Sophy, an AI driver that is “reliably superhuman” in Gran Turismo Sport, beating top human drivers in back-to-back laps. You might assume this is a simple task. After all, isn’t racing just a matter of speed and reaction time, which a machine can easily master? Experts in video game racing and artificial intelligence, however, feel GT Sophy’s victory is a huge step forward, with the agent demonstrating mastery of tactics and strategy.

“Outracing human drivers in a head-to-head battle with such dexterity represents a milestone achievement for AI,” says Stanford automotive professor J. Christian Gerdes in an editorial accompanying a publication presenting the experiment in the scientific journal Nature. “The success of GT Sophy on the track shows that neural networks may play a larger part in automated vehicle software in the future than they do now.”
GT Sophy was taught using a technique known as reinforcement learning, which is essentially a type of trial-and-error in which the AI agent is placed in an environment with no instructions and rewarded for achieving specific objectives. In the case of GT Sophy, Sony’s researchers claim they had to carefully build this “reward function,” such as fine-tuning collision penalties to mold a driving style that was aggressive enough to win but didn’t result in the AI pushing other racers off the road.
GT Sophy was able to maneuver around a racetrack with just a few hours of training and was faster than 95 percent of the drivers in its training dataset “within a day or two.” GT Sophy was able to reach superhuman performance on three tracks after 45,000 hours of training. (The tracks in question for Gran Turismo Sport players were Dragon Trail Seaside, Lago Maggiore GP, and Circuit de la Sarthe.)
When comparing AI agents to humans, one recurring issue is that robots have a lot of inherent advantages, such as flawless recall and quick reaction speeds. According to Sony’s experts, GT Sophy has some benefits over human players, such as a perfect course map with track boundary coordinates and “precise information on the load on each tire, slip angle of each tire, and another vehicle state.” However, they claim to have taken into account two crucial factors: action frequency and reaction time.
The highest frequency of GT Sophy’s inputs was capped at 10 Hz, compared to a theoretical maximum of 60 Hz for humans. According to the researchers, this sometimes resulted in human drivers demonstrating “significantly smoother motions” at high speeds. GT Sophy was able to react to events in the gaming environment in 23–30 ms, which is far faster than the 200–250 ms projected best reaction time for professional athletes. Researchers added artificial delay to compensate, training GT Sophy with reaction durations of 100, 200, and 250 milliseconds. “All three of these experiments reached a superhuman lap time,” they discovered.

Emily Jones, Valerio Gallo, and Igor Fraga, all prominent e-sport drivers, were pitted against GT Sophy. Despite the fact that none of the humans were able to beat the AI in time trials, their matches forced them to learn new strategies.
“It was extremely intriguing watching the lines where the AI would go,” e-sports driver Emily Jones said in a testimonial in the Nature report. “There were certain corners where I was going out wide and then cutting back in, and the AI was going in all the way around, so I learned a lot about the lines.” “For example, I was braking slower than the AI going into turn 1, but the AI would get a far better exit and beat me to the following curve.” I didn’t realize it until I saw the AI and thought to myself, ‘OK, I’ll do that instead.'”
Sony claims it’s working on incorporating GT Sophy into future Gran Turismo games, but there’s no timeline on when that will happen.

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