Thursday, September 22, 2011

Gamers are the new scientists

I never got into the whole online gaming scene. I know of a few people who are totally addicted to and obsessed with DOTA or Starcraft. It must be the excitement of battling opponents in a fantasy world, or just a fun way to kill or waste time. But recently, I came across a news article which put my view on online gaming in a different light. What took fifteen years for scientists took online gamers only 10 days to solve. Gamers have recently deciphered the structure for an enzyme which can possibly unlock the cure for AIDS. This feat was achieved through the game Foldit, which some say is similar to tetris, where people divided into competing teams are required to unfold chains of amino acids. The resulting 3D structure could help scientists know what areas to target for drugs. Creators attributed the success to human problem solving skills (like spatial reasoning and pattern recognition)—skills which computers do not have.

What is interesting about this development is that it presents a new approach of finding solutions to what were once considered as esoteric problems. One, it used an online game, which is an innovative way to engage people to solve the puzzle. I’ve never imagined that a game can be used to find the cure for AIDS and other diseases. In my mind, games belong to the realm of fun and yes, a little bit of challenge, but not giant scientific discoveries!! Two, it used the internet to connect people—connectivity which enabled gamers to work together, without being physically confined to a research facility or a science lab. Three, some people who were active and participated in the game do not have scientific or academic training (citizen science is what they call it), showing that even ordinary netizens who do not have technical backgrounds can contribute to solve what are thought of as complex problems. Online gaming has found a different purpose, providing not only entertainment but also a chance for gamers to make a difference.

Krystel Jehan M. Bautista, entry no. 14


See the site here:

No comments: