Puzzle-loving gamers are better at solving molecular biology problems than a supercomputer, according to a new study published today in the journal Nature. Playing a game called Foldit, which involves protein folding, gamers outsmarted computers on problems that required radical moves, risks and long-term vision.
The researchers, based at the University of Washington in Seattle, are incorporating the best Foldit players' strategies into their own algorithms. Forget distributed computing -- this is distributed thinking.
In what might be a video-game first, gamers will see their work translated into actual protein structures designed in the lab, according to the University of Washington. Last year, a Texas player who goes by the name "BootsMcGraw" was the first Foldit player to have his new protein design synthesized in the lab. Though it didn't work, the researchers plan to try again and are optimistic about the possibilities, according to a press release from UW.
The program stems from Rosetta@home, which works like SETI@home in that it uses a network of idle home computers to crunch data. Biologists were using Rosetta to figure out how proteins develop their final three-dimensional shapes. They know which amino acid chains make up proteins, but the way they're structured is not well understood, and that knowledge has huge potential, because proteins act as gatekeepers in the body.
Rosetta@home included a screensaver that showed users what the computer was doing. Sometimes the computer would get stuck on a tricky folding problem, but gamers thought it looked easy. "People started writing in saying, 'I can see where it would fit better this way'," says David Baker, a biochemist at UW in Seattle who developed Foldit, in Nature News.
Baker's team figured they would let them try it out, and the result was Foldit, wherein players can compete, collaborate, develop strategies, gather points and move to different levels.
It turns out that humans' highly evolved spatial manipulation talents were a boon for this type of problem-solving. Even a small protein can have hundreds of amino acids, meaning thousands of connections are possible -- and that means plenty of work for a computer. But humans can often see the solution intuitively, Nature News reports.
The paper's author list acknowledges more than 57,000 Foldit players, which may be unprecedented on a scientific publication, UW News says. Hey, it's got to be more satisfying than racking up ADAM.
We gamers have the power to save the world!
"Hey, it's got to be more satisfying than racking up ADAM"
WUT!?!?! Popsci writers actually know about popular games?!?!
Head is explode!
How cool is that? I have just had a bunch of interesting questions and applications pop into my head after reading that article lol
The thing that's seldom understood, or maybe it's just something that's seldom admitted is that "gamers" are often smarter than average, because many games involve recognizing a variety of patterns, then quickly developing strategies and tactics in a continuously dynamic environment.
It exercises the brain. I've read studies on elderly people who were exposed to video games, and there was a measurable increase in mental ability and attitude in those playing the video games.
Of all the toys you can get your kid, the xbox 360 or ps3 could be the most beneficial "toy" you could get, because of the almost infinite variety of games it can play. That's not to say you let your kids sit on their butts all day, but 4 hours of video games at night before going to bed will do far more for their mental capacity than 4 hours of TV a night.
Well, of course. Humans have many "threads" in comparison to CPU's. One brain against one cpu is like 8 quad-cores against one brain.
Very cool. Taking a compulsion (problem solving in a game environment) and coupling it with real-world results. Who knows, this could be the next way of employment.
A human brain has the capacity to store 2.5 petabytes of information all accessible in real time...no computer can do that. There is no supercomputer in existence that can top the spatial visualization skills of a tracking-sight hunting animal such as ourselves.
Gaming has varying levels of benefit. A 6 hour Halo/CoD session make one smart does not. I find games with puzzles or rpg aspects to yield more intelligent following, even more so on PC. Xbox/PS3 are just plug and play. Many PC gamers build their PCs or at least have to have a basic understanding of what hardware they have before they buy games (or their parents do at least.)
The key is LEGOs, period. :)
That,s what i think video games are a good mind exerciser and are a way for us to get through stress because nothing gets out stress like shooting a guy on call of duty.
HA!! Video games don't rot your brain! I knew it, then again so did every gamer out there. Not only are video games entertaining but when combined with applications such as this those bored hours spent on mindless solitare or other time-wasting games that are mildly amusing can be put to much better use. The human brain is an amazing computer, just think it can run on junk food and energy drinks and has been demonstrated as a better platform for distributed problem solving. I'd like to see Intel top that!