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Roblox is testing a tool that could accelerate the process of building and altering in-game objects by getting artificial intelligence to write the code. The tool lets anyone playing Roblox create items such as buildings, terrain, and avatars, change the appearance and behavior of those things, and give them new interactive properties by typing what they want to achieve in natural language rather than complex code.

“Say I need a gleaming metal sword for an experience I’m creating,” says Daniel Sturman, CTO at Roblox. “It should be really easy to create that.”

Sturman showed WIRED the new Roblox tool generating the code needed to create objects and modify their appearance and behavior. In the demo, typing “red pain, reflective metal finish,” or “purple foil, crushed pattern, reflective,” into a chat window changed the appearance of a sports car in the game. It was also possible to add new game behavior by entering “Blink the headlines every time the user presses “B”, and “Make it float.”

Technology dubbed generative AI has captured attention and investment over the past year by showing algorithms can produce seemingly coherent text and aesthetically pleasing images when given a short text prompt. The technology relies on AI models trained with lots of data, in the form of text or images scraped from the web, and is also at work in the viral chatbot ChatGPT. Some AI researchers are experimenting with generative techniques for generating video and 3D content but this is mostly at an early stage.  

Producing computer code was one of the first practical applications for generative AI, and Microsoft and Amazon already sell tools that can autowrite useful blocks of software. But Roblox’s announcement shows how companies can adapt code-writing capabilities to create their own generative AI products aimed at people who may not be experienced coders.

Sturman says the approach holds promise for Roblox because so many of the  games on its platform are made by individuals or small teams. “We have everything on our platform from studios, down to 12 year olds who have had an incredible idea come out of a summer camp,” Sturman says.

Roblox says the code-making AI it uses relies on a combination of in-house technology and capabilities from outside, although it is not disclosing where from. Currently the company is only training its AI using game content that is in the public domain. Sturman says Roblox will tread carefully to ensure that users do not object to having their creations fed into generative AI algorithms.

Microsoft was the first to harness the latest generation of AI for coding, through a deal with OpenAI, which has adapted a general purpose language technology called GPT to power a code generator called Codex. Microsoft enhanced the Codex’s coding abilities by feeding it more data from GitHub, a popular repository for software development, and it has made it available through its Visual Studio programming application.

Visual Studio and other AI-enabled programming environments typically write code in response to a developer’s comment or when the user starts typing. The startup Replit, which makes a popular online programming tool, recently launched a chatbot-like interface that will not only write code but answer programming questions.