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Grand Theft Auto 5’s best Twitch stream stars a driverless car named Charles

What a good, sweet car

There’s no shortage of possibilites for what players can achieve in Grand Theft Auto 5, but this may be one of the most innovate, fun experiments yet.

Created by programmer Harrison Kinsley, Charles is a car driven entirely by a never ending stream of Python code. On his blog, Kinsley said he wanted to use Grand Theft Auto 5 specifically as a way to test what AI was capable of. Basing part of the experiment on the developments that have come out of OpenAI’s Universe, a virtual world where artificial intelligence can learn and adapt — Kinsley wanted to see what a driverless car in Grand Theft Auto V could accomplish.

“Just in case it's not totally obvious, why GTA V? At least for me, Grand Theft Auto 5 is a great environment to practice in for a variety of reasons,” Kinsley wrote. “It's an open world with endless things you can do, but let's consider even just a simple one: Self-driving cars. With GTA V, we can use mods to control the time of day, weather, traffic, speeds, what happens when we crash...all kinds of things (mainly using mods, but this isn't absolutely required).

“It's just a completely customize-able environment.”

Charles is a self-driving neural network, which means it’s a computer program modeled on the human brain and can be trained to learn. With the exception of a few moments where Kinsley has had to step in to help Charles out of a tough bind (a corner he couldn’t get out of or when a squirrel chewed through some wires), Charles is entirely self-sufficient.

Although Charles bases his driving decisions on a series of pixelated visual data, Kinsley is hoping to change that as the experiment progresses. The programmer wants to add short-term memory and self-learning in future installments. Right now, Kinsley said, “Charles only sees exactly what you see.”


Kinsley began recording Charles’ adventures in April, publishing the videos on YouTube, but it wasn’t until May that he decided to take Charles to Twitch. Since then, Kinsley has been letting Charles roam the streets of Grand Theft Auto 5 between 9 a.m. CT and 9 p.m. CT every single day. People are slowly picking up on the stream, with Kinsley’s Twitch channel sitting at just over 450,000 views. The programmer wants to take what he learns in the game and apply it to other games, too.

“I may also try other games with this method, since I also think we can teach an AI to play games by simply showing it how to play for a bit, using a Convolutional Neural Network on that information, and then letting the AI poke around,” Kinsley wrote.

This isn’t the first time that driverless cars have been used in Grand Theft Auto 5. The game was chosen by a group of AI researchers to train their own self-driving artificial intelligence before outfitting it in real cars on the road. Grand Theft Auto 5’s environment is the richest for extracting data, Alain Kornhauser, a Princeton University professor who advises its Autonomous Vehicle Engineering team, told Bloomberg last month.

Kinsley isn’t looking to use the technology in real driverless cars, but agrees Grand Theft Auto 5 is a perfect platform for studying artificial intelligence. For now, Twitch viewers have fallen for Charles’ impressive antics and ability to drive his own course, applauding when he manages to get through a stretch of highway unscratched and mourning his most impressive accidents.