TED Conversations

Amy Robinson

EyeWire, MIT, Founder, TEDx Global Music Project


This conversation is closed.

How might gaming and crowd-sourcing change the future of science?

Jane McGonical recently said that people spend about 3 billion hours each week playing online games. A small but growing fraction of this time comes from citizen scientists, people with little or no scientific background who contribute to real research by playing games. Over 1 million people worldwide participate in projects ranging from protein folding (FoldIt) to wildlife species counts (SnapSerengeti from Zooniverse); they identify new objects in space (NASA) and categorize classical works of music (What's the Score from Zooniverse/Oxford). A wave of new projects are changing how the scientific method happens as we know it.

I am Creative Director of one such project called EyeWire, a game to map the brain from Sebastian Seung's Computational Neuroscience Lab at MIT. Together, we're mapping 3D neurons and new networks on a quest to understand how these exquisite cells wire together and process information. Over time, players' collective action trains an advanced artificial intelligence (AI) that will automate image analysis. This AI will help researchers around the world rapidly derive insights from their data. Thus people playing a game today are changing how neuroscientific discoveries will be made in the future. Together, they're pushing the boundaries of knowledge farther, faster.

Such unconventional science inspires me to contemplate the future, socially. If, as Einstein says, "imagination is a preview of life's coming attractions," then we're in for an amazing fusion of scitech and internet games. These tools bring people together for common purpose and build communities around scientific endeavor.

Do you think gaming in science will transform how discoveries are made? Why or why not? What do you think of this approach?

How could we help researchers embrace the idea of crowd-sourcing research? What could scientists learn from the gaming industry?

Finally, are you a citizen scientist? What do you play? Why do you play it?


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Apr 2 2013: I’m an old gamer and although I’m not a citizen-scientist, I consider myself a citizen-historian.
    That is to say I’m part of the Ancestry.com crowd-source-community, and it has me going on quest and collaborating with other players. Not only for my own enrichment but also for the good of others, just wish they making it have more a game feel.

    I’m both impressed and disappointed by the current selection of crowd-source-games.
    The reasons for being impressed in clear, so I’ll say where I hope for improvement.
    *unlike computers, humans are great at transcribing old documents and yet I don’t see it in gaming. We have world-search gaming apps, why not transcription-gaming apps.
    *MMORPGs often have mini-games in them and think crowd-sourcing-science games would be great for them.
    *The gaming industry employs all types of employee, artist, programmers, actors, script writers, orchestras, conductors, etc. to improve the gaming experience. So I think they would love and pay to work with scientist to add the feeling of being productive and part of something bigger as part of the experience.
    *for my android apps search I would love to see “citizen-scientist games” as a category.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.