Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Hey Buddy, Wanna Be a Gamer?

"But wait," you say. "Your other posts in the 'Hey Buddy, Wanna Be a...' series have been about contributing to scientific research. And now you want us to just play games?"

Not just play games, I say. But by playing foldit, you can both entertain yourself and contribute to scientific research, specifically in the realm of protein folding.

Those fine folks at David Baker's laboratory at the University of Washington (the same people who brought you the BOINC-based Rosetta@Home project for protein-folding simulation have created foldit to take advantage of the fact that there are some things that humans are just inherently better at (like image analysis and recognition) than computers are.

It turns out that because computers are not very good a visual processing, the Rosetta@Home software sometimes returns incorrect results. But humans—even with no training in biology at all—can do a better job of identifying things visually than modern computers can. In fact, many of the best players have no training in science at all.

The game is free to download and takes about 20 minutes to learn.

I love this kind of creative approach to solving one of the great problems in science today. Proteins are responsible for almost everything that happens in our bodies, but we understand so little about them. And now, thanks to people like me and you—who don't have to know anything about them can help the scientists advance our overall understanding and possibly find new ways to cure diseases.

No comments: