Codebreaker

Gamers solve problem scientists couldn’t

John Moe Sep 19, 2011

For over a decade, biomedical researchers have been trying to figure out the composition of a retrovirus enzyme from an AIDS-like virus. The belief was that if they could figure out how it works they’d make huge progress toward curing AIDS. The challenge was handed over to gamers playing a game called Foldit, which operates out of a lab at the University of Washington. The gamers solved it in three weeks.

It all came down to spatial reasoning:

Dr. Seth Cooper, of the UW Department of Computing Science and Engineering, is a co-creator of Foldit and its lead designer and developer. He studies human-computer exploration methods and the co-evolution of games and players.
“People have spatial reasoning skills, something computers are not yet good at,” Cooper said. “Games provide a framework for bringing together the strengths of computers and humans. The results in this week’s paper show that gaming, science and computation can be combined to make advances that were not possible before.”

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