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Good news: Grand Theft Auto 5 is being used to train driverless cars

Data from Los Santos helps analysts speed development

Grand Theft Auto 5 - Michael leaning on the hood of a car Rockstar Games

If you've ever happened upon a dozen cars immobilized by pure gridlock in a Grand Theft Auto 5 intersection and thought, "Now this is the kind of driver AI we need more of!" I have good news for you: The game is being used to teach cars how to drive themselves.

That's according to this story from Bloomberg, and, yes, researchers know how dubious it sounds at first. They quickly point out whatever data they're getting out of Grand Theft Auto 5 is supplementary to their work and not, like, the basis of their software. Which is great, because no one wants this in real life:

It turns out that GTA 5 is one of the simulation platforms that researchers are using to train up their self-driving AI before unleashing it on real roads. There simply isn't enough time in the day to drive enough real-world miles to teach the self-driving software how to operate a vehicle safely.

"Just relying on data from the roads is not practical," said Davide Bacchet of Nio, a startup whose goal is to introduce a self-driving electric car to the United States in 2020.

Alain Kornhauser, a Princeton University professor who advises its Autonomous Vehicle Engineering team, added that GTA 5 "is the richest virtual environment that we could extract data from."

The point is not so much that the behavior of AI drivers in Grand Theft Auto will or should be the behavior of AI cars in real life. And that's good. I don't want self driving cars getting frustrated, flipping out, driving on the sidewalk and into oncoming traffic, much less creating enormous chain reaction explosions.

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