"You can see this as symbiosis — computers learn from what people are doing and they do better."
- University of Washington Center for Game Science director Dr. Zoran Popović, speaking to The New York Times about the Center's new neuron-mapping game Mozak.
Remember FoldIt, the University of Washington's protein-folding game that loads of people play online in the name of advancing science?
Nearly a decade after FoldIt went live, the university's Center for Game Science (which developed FoldIt and continues to operate it) has worked with the Allen Institute for Brain Science to launch a new pattern-matching game that's helping scientists better understand another aspect of biology: neurons in the human brain.
The game is called Mozak, and it asks players to map and trace structures in 3D images of individual neurons in either the human (80-90 billion neurons) or mouse brain (~100 million.)
It's a neat project, and much like FoldIt, Mozak is designed around the premise that humans are much more effective at certain tasks than computers are: in this case, identifying and tracing neurons in 3D.
The New York Times reports that since its launch in November it now averages about 200 players a day, and that the game's ultimate goal is less about expanding our understanding of neuron models (although it is also about that!) and more about gathering a bunch of high-quality neuron maps that researchers can use to better train computers to do this work.
"If we create a corpus of thousands of these neurons, the chances are the computational methods will become better,” Center for Game Science director Dr. Zoran Popovic told the Times. “You can see this as symbiosis — computers learn from what people are doing and they do better."
You can find more details about how the game works over on the Mozak website.