How Fantastic Computer Games Help Research

How Fantastic Computer Games Help Research
How Fantastic Computer Games Help Research

If someone still blames you for wasting time on computer games, show them EyeWire. In this science game, players revolutionize neuroscience. Unbelievable, but we really know very little about our brains. It is estimated that there are about 80 billion neurons in the human brain. But what they are, and how many different species they exist in general, has not yet been fully explored by anyone. And the number of neurons is far from the only determinant of brain function. Nerve connections and how and where they are formed are very important. The human brain is thought to have at least 100 trillion connections. And scientists need your help!

How Fantastic Computer Games Help Research
How Fantastic Computer Games Help Research

How Does It Work?

It is simply not possible for a scientific laboratory to create a complete map of brain neurons. And computer algorithms still need a lot of practice to be able to perform this job that requires extremely high accuracy. However, Sebastian Seung, a researcher at Massachusetts Technical University, took on both of these tasks in 2012.

Developed by Seung and his partners, the computer game EyWire has become the first civic science game of this level. The scientist entrusted a complex field of neuroscience to the crowd. But despite the fact that recreating a 3D map of neurons is a difficult task, the game has turned everything into fun spatial puzzles that are easy to engage in. Since 2012, this game has been tried by more than a million people. And you do not need any special education to play this game.

How to Play This Game?

The task of the EyeWire player is to determine where one neuron extends in one game cube that consists of pictures of a neuron taken under an electron microscope. One cube is about 4.5 microns thick, which is ten times thinner than a human hair. These cubes are provided to players by the algorithm, along with a more or less predicted neuronal structure. It is up to the player to determine exactly where one cell begins and where it ends, thus cube-by-cube restoring the structure of one neuron and its connections to other cells.

One cube is always viewed by more than one player, as a result, very accurate results can be expected. And the way the human eye interprets photos taken under a microscope also helps to train the computer algorithms that were developed in the laboratory of Seung. So, they are performing this task more and more accurately, and perhaps in the near future will be able to solve all the spatial puzzles of the brain quickly. But for now, due to the sheer number of neurons and their connections, this process is just at the initial phase.

With the help of EyeWire players, scientists have been able to answer a long-awaited question about vision – how mammals perceive the direction in which the body is moving. This discovery was published in 2014 in the prestigious magazine called Nature. The list of authors of the articles includes all the players who decided to play a game and help the scientists.