GTA V’s AI Car Stream Is All The Craze

Watch the adventures of Charles, a car driving AI

We’ve covered efforts to use GTA V’s virtual environment as a training ground for the AI programs intended to control self-driving cars in the past, but now one particular neural network attempting to brave the streets of Los Santos has achieved internet fame.

Like any proper AI, this one has a name: Charles. Affectionately called Charlie by fans and viewers, the AI is an artificial neural network, meaning that the structure is based on the human brain’s function, netting it perks like the ability to learn. There usually is zero human input in the actions of Charles, sans a few occasions when the developer behind him, Harrison Kinsley, had to save his little project from a particularly menacing corner.

Let loose in a modded version of GTA V, Charles manifests as an invulnerable black Armored Kuruma powered by a Python script which analyses what is present on the screen frame by frame and uses that data to make decisions. There are various versions of Charles with some differences. The one running on the Twitch stream, for example, was incapable of learning and had no memory. The purpose there was to collect data to incorporate into the next version.

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. 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) – Kinsley

On YouTube, Charles’ developer has posted a number of other videos explaining more about how our favorite runaway AI works.  At the time of writing, Charles’ Twitch stream isn’t broadcasting, likely because Kinsley is updating the program with the new data as scheduled.

However, in his brief stint on Twitch, Charles has become something of a celebrity. In-jokes and veritable memes have already arisen among the viewers. Charles’ seemingly manic tendency to seek out water and drive into it, forcing the script to auto-teleport, is the most common one, however the AI’s murderous tendencies are also often joked about.

Most of the time, Charles has the driving skill equivalent to a Lemur on meth, as in its current state the script isn’t too complex. It doesn’t recognize which direction traffic is headed, and can’t really avoid obstacles in many situations. Actually, Charles hasn’t quite mastered going forward yet either. He gets stuck time and again in various locations around GTA V’s map.

So that Kinsley doesn’t need to manually save Charles in these cases, the script detects when there isn’t any change in coordinates for a long time, and if so, auto-teleports Charles to a random location. In some cases Charlie got himself into a situation where going back and forth prevented this, forcing Kinsley to intervene.

That said, rarely Charles displayed signs of utter brilliance. During our time watching the stream – which is strangely entertaining and captivating – we’ve seen Charles evade the police with stunts that even expert players would need luck to pull off, make unexpected jumps and thread the needle between tight props.

We, for one, are eager to see how an upgraded Charles will fare in traffic tomorrow, and it’s always interesting to see GTA V used for scientific purposes. You can check out the Twitch stream here when it comes back online.


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