Gamers Outperform Computer Algorithms in Protein Folding

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Taking its lead from distributed computing programs such as SETI@Home, researchers released Folding@Home, a project that used the spare processing power of PCs and PlayStation 3 units to simulate the folding of proteins to explore medical and scientific applications such as preventing dire conditions that result from protein misfolding. Because of the complexity of simulating the exceptionally complex protein folding process, Folding@Home required a tremendous amount of processing power and still yielded results only slowly.

In an attempt to speed along the research and test the limits of human collective intelligence, a group of researchers transformed the exercise into a game called Foldit. As the paper states, "We show that top-ranked Foldit players excel at solving challenging structure refinement problems in which substantial backbone rearrangements are necessary to achieve the burial of hydrophobic residues. Players working collaboratively develop a rich assortment of new strategies and algorithms; unlike computational approaches, they explore not only the conformational space but also the space of possible search strategies. The integration of human visual problem-solving and strategy development capabilities with traditional computational algorithms through interactive multiplayer games is a powerful new approach to solving computationally-limited scientific problems."

Players' ability to intuit spatial relationships and recognize dead-end paths allowed them to outperform top algorithms for performing the same tasks, indicating that groups of humans (gamers in particular) may be a strong substitute for raw computational power.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on August 4, 2010 8:24 PM.

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