One of the buzz words in computer gaming today is 'artificial intelligence'. All right, so that's two words really, but let's not be too picky. What does it mean? Artificial intelligence is a phrase that has been around for years, and basically describes the ability of a computer to give the impression that it is thinking, in the same way that a human thinks. It has been suggested that the best artificial intelligence systems should give an impression of behavior that, to the observer, are indistinguishable from the behavior seen from a human. In other words, if the computer's characters and responses are variable, appropriate and as meaningful as though another player was playing against you, then the computer is doing a good job of mimicking intelligence.
Many people argue whether artificial intelligence is something which is simply mimicked - in other words, the computer is giving the impression of intelligence and thought but actually this is pre-programmed by a designer, or whether the computer is genuinely thinking independent and original ideas.
Our own brains are simply very complex computers - they are made up of millions of little processors all connected using living wires which use electrical signals to exchange, process, store and retrieve data or information. By linking together a number of computer processors, linking them together in complex ways and giving the computer a basic formula for learning, it can proceed through the same sort of stages we do as humans, learning about the world around it, learning about knowledge, information, responses, communications, reactions and the many other influences which affect behaviour. It is hard to see how this type of intelligence is really any different from our own. Certainly, computers are able to come up with original ideas in just the same way that we do.
This kind of intelligence is necessary for computer games when players are competing against, or alongside, other characters which are played by the computer. Most people enjoy playing against other people rather than a machine because other people can provide variable, random and sometimes unpredictable responses and behaviors, whereas simply programmed machines will always respond the same way, in predictable ways that mean a player only has to remember the few basic responses possible and respond to them in order to complete the level.
With artificially intelligent characters playing against you, it can mean that in some cases, even the game designers can't entirely predict what the computer characters will do, and each game is likely to proceed in a different way, depending on those responses.
Of course some games contain artificially intelligent characters more developed than others, and certainly, those characters that are simply programmed to either run left, run right or stand and shoot, depending on a random choice, don't resent much in the way of variation or intelligence. But in many cases it can become quite spooky watching characters milling about, getting on with their tasks, knowing that they are being controlled by a thinking computer. As computers become more and more advanced, and their intelligence becomes more developed, who knows what they will eventually be capable of doing.