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Amy Robinson

EyeWire, MIT, Founder, TEDx Global Music Project

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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?

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    Apr 6 2013: I believe it has been long known that 'insight' is independent of 'knowledge'. For scientific game producers, and the scientific community, games are an excellent way to harvest mass 'insight', not only 'for free', but also beyond the confines of the limit of the scientific community's experience and knowledge. Games bring joy, which is an excellent motivator for participation. They also bring a subliminal (sic) desire to 'hit it big'. To 'beat the game'. To be the one who 'discovered the cure'. I think it's similar to a 'lottery winner' mentality. I can go down in history as the one who 'found the cure' without having to go to school and study the discipline in a game. So yes, I think gaming is an excellent way to get cooperation towards scientific efforts.

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