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Anyone who has taken a basic computer science class has undoubtedly spent time devising a sorting algorithm—code that will take an unordered list of items and put them in ascending or descending order. It’s an interesting challenge because there are so many ways of doing it and because people have spent a lot of time figuring out how to do this sorting as efficiently as possible.

Sorting is so basic that algorithms are built into most standard libraries for programming languages. And, in the case of the C++ library used with the LLVM compiler, the code hasn’t been touched in over a decade.

But Google’s DeepMind AI group has now developed a reinforcement learning tool that can develop extremely optimized algorithms without first being trained on human code examples. The trick was to set it up to treat programming as a game.

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