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“AI will raise the level of the drivers,” says Gran Turismo’s Kazunori Yamauchi

We had a chat with Gran Turismo creator Kazunori Yamauchi about AI advancements and their future in video games

AI is one of the hottest topics on the internet, whether it’s coming for your voice acting jobs, or posing a credible threat to your writing skills. Video games, though, have been familiar with artificial intelligence for a long time, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that they’re on the cutting edge while other industries start to toy with the idea of it.

As ChatGPT impresses in mimicking how a human might write in a chat or even in a story, and Altered AI is doing its first steps into the uncanny valley, there’s a place where AI is already much better than most people out there - video games.

Last year, Sony and Polyphony Digital announced GT Sophy, a brand-new AI - they’re calling it “the first superhuman AI agent to outrace the world’s best drivers” - that’s already capable of beating Gran Turismo pro players.

In a racing demonstration played on Gran Turismo Sport where Sophy had four cars out of eight on the grid - the rest handled by 2021 TGR GT Cup champions Tomoaki Yamanaka, 2020 Nations Cup world champion Takuma Miyazono, 2018 Nations Cup Asia/Oceania champion Ryota Kokubun, and 2019 Japan National Esports champion youth division Shotaro Ryu - the AI won by 5.8 seconds over Yamanaka, and retained the fastest lap on Lago Maggiore by more than two seconds. If you’re not familiar with motorsports and esports, that’s extremely impressive.

One year later, update 1.29 introduced a limited-time “Race Together” event, allowing players to challenge Sophy on Gran Turismo 7 for PS5. The event allowed players to challenge the AI in four races, identical car configurations and settings, and on varying levels of difficulty, from Beginner to Expert. It’s still available and won’t go away until late March if you want to give it a try.

Gran Turismo creator Kazunori Yamauchi.

Gran Turismo creator Kazunori Yamauchi.

GLHF had the opportunity to speak to Gran Turismo creator Kazunori Yamauchi about AI advancements, and what the future of the technology could be, when it comes to applying it to video games and esports.

“When talking about Gran Turismo, the advancement [here is] that all drivers will really have an advanced coach,” Yamauchi explains through a translator. “I believe the level of the driving across the game in the community is going to be pushed forward.”

According to Yamauchi, players are typically presented with settings they can “optimize” and “limiting restrictions” that they try to “overcome” once playing. “With the AI becoming as fast as the top drivers in terms of skill, and showing a sportsmanship which is equal to those, the regular players of Gran Turismo going up against this AI also means that their level will be greatly increased as well,” he says.

While there’s a focus on improving your skills, it’s not just a matter of stepping up your game. The producer thinks the new AI will also be key when it comes to striking the right balance with your difficulty settings, and finding someone to play with at the same level of your game, whether you’re a top driver or just starting to play.

“Even now, the very top drivers will go online and drive against or together with the very top drivers,” he acknowledges. “But this advancement in AI will allow drivers to race against [drivers] at the same level of driving skills.”

Yamauchi truly seems to believe in the positive impact of AI in gaming, something that’s not to be taken for granted if you consider the social challenges the technology is bringing to light in other fields.

“I think that will really help in raising the level of the drivers across the board for all the players,” he reconfirms.

While we’ll have to wait and see what happens with AI in the future, that was just enough to convince me I should go play that Gran Turismo 7 event and challenge Sophy myself. I could be the one to beat it or, in a worst-case scenario, I could learn one thing or two about racing.