Crowdsourcing, Genes and Games: Tools for Innovation

Posted by jartese on Feb 25, 2014 3:15:33 PM

Crowdsourcing is a method of garnering needed information from a large group of people, in this case an online community, in order to meet goals one person could not. It is often used to outsource remedial work that a company cannot handle on its own. A more interesting and relevant use for crowdsourcing, is to combine the intelligence, creativity, and time of an otherwise ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things. Although the idea that a group of people must know more than the individual is not new the platform of the internet has made it more prevalent than ever. We are now able to harvest millions of human minds of their genius and employ that genius for the good of all. Perhaps the most innovative way crowdsourcing being used is in video games.

Basic Principles of Crowdsourcing:

  • Combine efforts of interested parties
  • Delegate small parts of larger work among thousands of people
  • Creative solutions at inexpensive costs
  • Social contact
  • Intellectual stimulation
  • Combined wisdom of a crowd

The idea is to take the manpower of the billions of gamers from around the world and apply it to something useful, while still catching their attention. Genetics has long been on the leading forefront in the battle against cancer. Genetic oncologists have had huge success with mapping out patients DNA and isolating cancer genes, but they often meet the problem of too much data. To combat this they have used the speed modern computers can offer to mine and analyze data. This has mostly been a success, but as good of a job as the computers do they have always fallen short of what the human eye can spot. This gap between the speed of computers and intuition of human intelligence is where crowdsourcing and gamers come in.

Using Gamers to Decode Genetics

Element Alpha is a casual ‘Asteroid’ like game that plots DNA as a space route and allows players to navigate it while shooting down asteroids. While the idea is to get the high score what players are actually doing is finding patterns of DNA faults out of the corresponding data. It may sound like an improbable way to work toward a cure for cancer, but the gaming app has already proved to be up to 15% more accurate than the computers we have working through genetic coding right now. Keep in mind these are early tests of the game, but the results are certainly promising.

Learning the Elements and Advancing Science

Whichever game you play, the general idea is the same; giving us access to examine our own DNA and the building blocks of the world around us. Although solutions to diseases are unlikely to come straight from these games it is arguable that we are getting closer and closer to those solutions through this new trend in video games.  NanoDoc has created a game that lets one participate in the design of nanoparticle strategy. Basically these nanoparticles will be used to fight cancer in the future.  Originally developed in the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, the game allows you to design a tumor scenario and then release the scenario to the crowd to create nanoparticles that interact with the tumor cells in the most destructive way. Crowdsourcing games like this allow for large scale scenario testing for specific needs of researchers. The crowd factor adds in the creative diversity of different backgrounds and specialties, enhancing the effectiveness of the research.

Crowdsourcing is fast becoming a leading method in all types of innovation. From creating a vast amount of content you see on the web to finding patterns in genetic flaws, this method of harvesting creativity, knowledge, and time from a group of people is an innovation in and of itself. With the advent of the internet and phone networks creating video games that help us harness crowdsourcing is without a doubt the most entertaining way to work on solutions to real world problems.

Topics: Innovation Insights

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