Online play to tackle tough computational problems
There's an intriguing piece in Science news about using the power of online gaming to address big computational challenges such as language translation, refining online search, locating objects in images, etc. The point is to use the time, the energy and the mass of players to solve problems and collect data: "turning playtime to profit". Moreover, the researchers realize that computers are good at certain things but less at others, hence the idea of tapping into "human brainpower". Some examples described on the ACM Technews:
"One example is the ESP Game developed by von Ahn, in which two players come up with words to describe an image, and are awarded points when the words match; in this way, images can be creatively labeled to facilitate easier Web searching. Players are encouraged to choose more creative, less obvious descriptive terms by being restricted from using certain words. Training computers to determine the location of an image of an object is the goal behind Phetch, another game of von Ahn's in which players search for images that fit certain descriptions in a scavenger hunt scheme. One player or narrator types out a description of an image chosen from a database at random, and then several other players or seekers find the image by using a built-in browser; points are awarded to the narrator every time a search is carried out successfully, while the first seeker to find the image gets points and assumes the role of narrator for the next image. Von Ahn's latest game, Verbosity, is founded on the concept of building a database of common-sense facts through gameplay. In Verbosity, one player is given a word and presents hints about the word to another player in the form of sentences with blanks where words should go. Von Ahn says all his games have a time limit because he wants participants to play faster and thus generate more data."