As a kid, my mother used to encourage us kids to turn our chores into a game. Like the youngsters in Disney’s Mary Poppins, we were quickly transformed from grumpy grudging slaves into happy-go-lucky singers. Its true that getting people to help solve tough problems can be as simple as making it a game.
I’ve read how simply identifying the objects, animals or famous persons in images as a way to earn points is used to populate certain CAPTCHA tests or help image databases and their search algorithms. The Economist (Game not Over) writes about a compelling method of unfolding complex protein molecules as an online game. In a contest with commercial software, gamers proved they are better at solving complex problems than computer programs.
It seems that humans can take two steps back to then take ten steps forward, a strategy that the algorithm wouldn’t easily consider.
I can see how the gamers are motivated. As well, none of the winning gamers are scientists. This is consistent with my experience with brainstorming and group problem solving. It often doesn’t need professionals to solve since the truth inherent in [[Occam’s razor]], when confronted with two solutions to a problem the simpler one is more likely the correct one, can guide the amateur as well as the professional. Clearly, for complex problems, making it a game puts all the fun into the exercise of the human brain, that marvelous instrument!
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