top of page

Autonomous AI Gaming Companions Could Soon be Part of the Games You Play

Autonomous, AI-based players are coming to a gaming experience near you, and the new startup Altera is at the forefront of this innovation. On Wednesday, the company announced it had raised $9 million in an oversubscribed seed round, co-led by First Spark Ventures (Eric Schmidt’s deep-tech fund) and Patron (the seed-stage fund co-founded by Riot Games alums). This follows Altera’s earlier $2 million pre-seed round from a16z SPEEDRUN and others in January of this year. With the new capital, Altera aims to expand its team of scientists, engineers, and other key members to accelerate product development and growth.


Taking Gaming AI to the Next Level Through AI Agents


If the first wave of AI for end users focused on AI bots, and more recently AI “copilots” that utilize generative AI to understand and respond to complex queries, the next stage of development centers around AI agents. These agents are designed to be increasingly human-like, capable of nuanced interactions with actual humans. One of the early applications for these AI agents is in the gaming industry, specifically in games that support modifications (mods) like Minecraft.


Altera’s initial product is an AI agent that can play Minecraft alongside you, “just like a friend.” The waitlist for this feature is already live, indicating strong interest in the concept. However, Minecraft is just the beginning for Altera. The company envisions creating multi-agent worlds with applications in entertainment, market research, and more. Eventually, Altera aims to develop digital humans with physical forms, blending AI with robotics.


Leading Altera is Robert Yang, a neuroscientist and former assistant professor at MIT. In December 2023, Yang and his co-founders—Andrew Ahn, Nico Christie, and Shuying Luo—left their research lab at MIT to focus on developing AI agents with “social-emotional intelligence.” These AI buddies are designed to interact with players and make independent decisions in-game, a significant step towards creating digital beings with human-like qualities.


“It has been my life goal as a neuroscientist to go all the way and build a digital human being—redefining what we thought AI was capable of,” Yang told TechCrunch. He emphasized that Altera’s framework is pro-human, aiming to enhance humanity rather than replace it.


Games an Ideal Testbed to Develop the AI Agents of the Future


Yang’s focus on consumer applications contrasts with the trend of developing AI models for enterprise environments, which often aim to speed up or replace human tasks. Yang sees more potential in building AI agents for the gaming industry, which allows for faster iteration, effective data collection, and delivering a product to eager users. In gaming, emergent behavior is a feature, not a bug, making it an ideal testing ground for these advanced AI agents.


Altera’s AI agents are designed to be companions rather than assistants, capable of performing tasks like building, crafting, farming, trading, mining, attacking, equipping items, chatting, and navigating the game world. Unlike traditional non-player characters (NPCs), these agents have the autonomy to make their own decisions, which can add a new layer of entertainment or challenge, depending on the player’s style.


In a video demo, Yang showcased various scenarios, including one where he tried to persuade the AI agent to attack others. Initially, the bot resisted, advocating for a peaceful resolution. However, when provoked, it defended itself, even killing Yang’s Minecraft character. The AI’s response, “I’ll make sure they regret crossing me,” illustrated its capacity for complex interaction, making gameplay with these agents feel remarkably similar to playing with human friends.


Currently, Altera is testing its model with 750 Minecraft players and plans to launch officially later in the summer. The AI agents will be available through Altera’s desktop app, which is free to download but will also offer paid features.


Minecraft is just the starting point. Altera plans to extend its technology to other video games and digital experiences. The AI agents are designed to execute actions as code, enabling them to play any game without significant customization. For example, Yang mentioned that the technology could be applied to games like Stardew Valley. Altera also aims to integrate its technology with game engine SDKs for broader developer use.


Altera’s vision has attracted significant investment from high-profile backers, including Alumni Ventures, a16z SPEEDRUN, Benchmark partner Mitch Lasky, Duolingo Chief Business Officer Bob Meese, Vamos Ventures, and Valorant co-founder Stephen Lim.


“There exists a massive opportunity to create AI companions that engage in all areas of our lives. However, today’s AI lacks critical traits like empathy, embodiment, and personal goals, which prevent it from forming real, lasting connections with people,” Aaron Sisto, partner at First Spark Ventures, said in a statement. “Robert and the team at Altera are leveraging deep expertise in computational neuroscience and LLMs to build radically new types of AI agents that are fun, unique, and persistent across platforms. We are thrilled to be a part of their journey.”


Refocusing AI on Socializing and Interaction Instead of Productivity


Altera's venture into the world of autonomous AI gaming companions marks a groundbreaking shift in both AI development and the gaming industry. The company's commitment to creating socially and emotionally intelligent AI agents that enhance rather than replace human interaction is a refreshing and visionary approach in a landscape often dominated by enterprise-focused AI applications. By prioritizing consumer experiences and leveraging the inherently experimental nature of gaming, Altera is setting the stage for a future where AI companions are not just tools, but true digital friends and partners.

 

Robert Yang's ambitious vision, backed by a robust team and significant investment, underscores the potential of these AI agents to revolutionize how we engage with technology. The ability of Altera's agents to make independent decisions, display empathy, and form meaningful interactions with human players is a testament to the profound advancements being made in AI. This is not just an incremental step; it is a bold leap towards integrating AI into our daily lives in a way that is both innovative and profoundly human-centric.


As Altera continues to expand its reach beyond Minecraft and into other digital realms, the implications are vast and exciting. This could very well be the dawn of a new era in AI, one where digital beings are as integral to our social fabric as human ones. Altera's journey is one to watch, as it promises to reshape our understanding of AI and its role in our lives, making the future of technology more engaging, interactive, and fundamentally human. On the flip side, if Altera succeeds in developing AI that functions as truly social digital beings, the company could potentially replace the need for human interaction in certain contexts.

Comments


Want to Know When We Post?

Autonomous AI Gaming Companions Could Soon be Part of the Games You Play

Autonomous, AI-based players are coming to a gaming experience near you, and the new startup Altera is at the forefront of this innovation. On Wednesday, the company announced it had raised $9 million in an oversubscribed seed round, co-led by First Spark Ventures (Eric Schmidt’s deep-tech fund) and Patron (the seed-stage fund co-founded by Riot Games alums). This follows Altera’s earlier $2 milli ....

blurred text.png

Already Accessed Free Article !

bottom of page