When Gran Turismo developer Polyphony Digital unveiled the GT Sophy artificial intelligence agent it developed in cooperation with Sony AI more than a year ago, it stood to massively improve the quality of the Real Driving Simulator's offline, single-player races. Polyphony finally released Sophy to players in the form of a limited-time test in Gran Turismo 7 earlier this year, but those events are no longer accessible. Fortunately, that shouldn't be the last we see of the technology, as Sony AI America Director Peter Wurman said his team is working alongside the studio to make Sophy a permanent fixture in the game.
Wurman offered an update on the state of Sophy during Sony's Creators Conference, an event running concurrently with the Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques (SIGGRAPH) convention last week in Los Angeles, per GTPlanet. Any GT7 players who competed against Sophy will remember that while the AI was very adept at giving players a challenge and racing fairly—most of the time, anyway—it was quite limited in terms of the cars and tracks it was equipped to drive. The focus now has shifted to making Sophy a model that can accommodate a wide variety of scenarios, so it can more adequately replace Gran Turismo's existing computer-controlled opponents.
As any longtime fan of the series will tell you, that day can't come soon enough. Traditional Gran Turismo "AI" isn't so much AI in modern parlance, as it doesn't work on a machine-learning model. It tends to be either hopelessly slow or artificially fast, beating players through artificial stat boosts rather than on sheer skill and driving finesse.
That's why Sophy is different. Wurman's team has developed a scheme that rewards the agent when it performs in a way that improves its standing in the race. Multiply that by thousands of instances on PlayStations running in the cloud, and you begin to have an idea of how Sophy went from barely being able to finish a lap to outdriving the greatest Gran Turismo players in the world.
As GTPlanet reports, Sophy is also being tweaked to pose as a satisfying competitor for less capable players, which is harder to cultivate than it might sound. During the "Play Together" event in GT7 earlier this year, Sophy was made easier to beat by virtue of simply being given slower cars. In all other aspects, "the agent wasn't really handicapped in any way," as Wurman told the audience during his presentation. At present, Sophy is simply rewarded for being as fast as possible; nothing else matters. It's a unique challenge to design a rival that can scale to different skill levels in a convincing, human way, without relegating it to using, say, three-quarters throttle on every straightaway, or tires with less grip.
Regardless, it's encouraging to know work is still ongoing to get Sophy there. Online multiplayer is great, but the concept of having an engaging digital opponent that races hard, defends fairly and responds dynamically to different situations is something the vast majority of racing games have never quite been able to crack, especially Gran Turismo. Personally, I don't always love sim racing against actual humans, because humans have emotions and may threaten your family because you accidentally tapped them braking for Laguna Seca's Corkscrew. There's no timetable on when this expanded edition of Sophy will emerge, but we'll be looking forward to it.