Amateur Inventors Are Crowdsourced to Solve Scientific Problems

(p. A3) At his laboratory console, Rhiju Das is making a game of a pressing public-health problem. He is recruiting thousands of videogamers to develop a better test for tuberculosis, which infects about one-third of the world’s population.
All they have to do is design a single molecule that can diagnose the disease in a patient’s bloodstream quickly, easily and cheaply–a task that so far has eluded public-health experts. To muster a crowd of amateurs to attempt it, Dr. Das, a biochemist at the Stanford University School of Medicine, and his colleagues this week launched the OpenTB challenge on a Web-based videogame called Eterna.
“The players themselves are going to be the inventors,” said Dr. Das. “Any molecule that a top player can make in the game, we will test it in the laboratory.”
. . .
In a game called Phylo, developed at McGill University, 300,000 players have been cross-indexing disease-related DNA sequences from dozens of species. And in Quantum Moves, conceived at Aarhus University in Denmark, 10,000 players are applying the bizarre laws of quantum mechanics to improve computer design.
“The number of projects has exploded,” said McGill computer scientist Jerome Waldispuhl, who co-founded the Phylo project.
Despite initial misgivings about the accuracy of crowdsourced research, players have produced reliable results and a dozen or so peer-reviewed research papers.
Typically, the players drawn to the science games have no special scientific expertise. They usually are intrigued by the chance to make a useful contribution to research in their spare time.
. . .
By harnessing human intuition and visual perception, these crowdsourcing games highlight differences between human and machine intelligence, several game designers said. “All of these citizen-science projects are like a snapshot of what is uniquely human at the moment,” said physicist Jacob Sherson at Aarhus University who helped to design Quantum Moves.

For the full story, see:
Robert Lee Hotz. “Videogamers Wanted: to Fight TB.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., May 4, 2016): A3.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 3, 2016, and has the title “Videogamers Are Recruited to Fight Tuberculosis and Other Ills.” The sentence quoting Jerome Waldispuhl, appeared in the online, but not the print, version of the article.)

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