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Artificial Intelligence Learns to Play Super Mario World in 34 Tries

Robots have already come for our jobs, and now they are gunning for our video games. Developer Seth Bling created an AI called MarI/O that managed to beat the Donut Plains I level of Super Mario World in just 34 tries.  

Watching the AI run through the game, you will notice that the computer uses a lot of jumping and very little hesitation. Compare it to a human playing, and you’ll see it looks very different. MarI/O did not know how to play the game when it first started. The first few attempts involved a lot of standing still or walking in a straight line. With time, it learned to play the game through trial and error. This process is called neuroevolution.

The AI saw the Mario world in black and white: good things that could be stood on looked like white blocks, whereas enemies were black blocks. The program had a “fitness” level that increased when it progressed right and decreased when it went left. 

Quickly, the MarI/O learned that pressing the right directional button allows Mario to run right on the white blocks. From there, it learned each strategy one by one. Moves would either be kept or discarded depending on success. The most successful strategies were "bred" into the next generation, and it took 34 evolutionary steps, or generations, for the AI to complete the level. 

The algorithm is called NEAT (NeuroEvolution of Augmenting Topologies), but as Engadget points out, this is not the only program that has learned to play the game. Watch this impressive 2009 Mario AI competition winner demolish a level:

[h/t: Engadget.com]

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26 Facts About LEGO Bricks

Since it first added plastic, interlocking bricks to its lineup, the Danish toy company LEGO (from the words Leg Godt for “play well”) has inspired builders of all ages to bring their most imaginative designs to life. Sets have ranged in size from scenes that can be assembled in a few minutes to 5000-piece behemoths depicting famous landmarks. And tinkerers aren’t limited to the sets they find in stores. One of the largest LEGO creations was a life-sized home in the UK that required 3.2 million tiny bricks to construct.

In this episode of the List Show, John Green lays out 26 playful facts about one of the world’s most beloved toy brands. To hear about the LEGO black market, the vault containing every LEGO set ever released, and more, check out the video above then subscribe to our YouTube channel to stay up-to-date with the latest flossy content.

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Of Buckeyes and Butternuts: 29 States With Weird Nicknames for Their Residents
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Tracing a word’s origin and evolution can yield fascinating historical insights—and the weird nicknames used in some states to describe their residents are no exception. In the Mental Floss video above, host John Green explains the probable etymologies of 29 monikers that describe inhabitants of certain states across the country.

Some of these nicknames, like “Hoosiers” and “Arkies” (which denote residents of Indiana and Arkansas, respectively) may have slightly offensive connotations, while others—including "Buckeyes," "Jayhawks," "Butternuts," and "Tar Heels"—evoke the military histories of Ohio, Kansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. And a few, like “Muskrats” and “Sourdoughs,” are even inspired by early foods eaten in Delaware and Alaska. ("Goober-grabber" sounds goofier, but it at least refers to peanuts, which are a common crop in Georgia, as well as North Carolina and Arkansas.)

Learn more fascinating facts about states' nicknames for their residents by watching the video above.

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