This ingenious idea has now delivered and it is still BETA!
Foldit is much like Mahjong or even Solitaire in that it presents as a puzzle game, albeit in 3D! … However, the rules of the game are as near a match to the rules of biology, chemistry & physics as a computer can muster. The objective of each puzzle is to organize a molecule in the most efficient way possible. Just like any puzzle game, it seems a bit complex at first but once you get a feel for it it really is pretty fun.
So now is the brilliant part. Within these levels of known structures this brilliant game (supported by the Center for Game Science at the the University of Washington) injects unknown structures with the hopes that they could be solved in the same fashion.
Guess what, they did! In about 10 days! The researchers really thought this was a long-shot but the results are astounding.
So perhaps the most interesting point of this brilliant exercise is what the peanut gallery has to say. Perhaps ironically, since gamers solved the puzzle, the peanut gallery becomes the academics who didn’t. Obviously the researchers themselves were elated. The academic world is not entirely devoid of humility. However, there is plenty of vitriol to be found from those who do lack humility.
“The gamer just got lucky, that’s all there is to it.” – Post from message board.
I suspect that the Center for Game Science at UofW will be taking exception to that claim. It reminds me of the many stories about Albert Einstein, not being able to speak until he was 4, not being able to tie his shoes even into his teens… Perhaps they are fables, but perhaps it stands to reason that intelligence just comes in a variety of forms and those fascinated with solving a puzzle are not especially interested in memorizing the solution. A trait that is vastly undervalued on the academic track. It may shake their doctorate, post-graduate, world, but maybe they are not quite as elite as they’ve come to believe.
Whatever the case, I hope we hear a lot more about this. I’ve always believed that the most practical among us are those who are trying to take the next step, and almost always the most practical among us are the ones responsible for us taking the next step. There are those who dream and fantasize about 100 years down the road. Usually borrowing ideas from George Lucas. However, 100 years later we’re shaking our heads thinking how silly those ideas were. They overreach, they become “idea people” with no grasp and little skill in reality. Somehow they often stand in the spotlight, making predictions that are absurd at best, while the doers are doing. A shout out to the doers of the world. Some of us know that the doers ARE the idea people. The doers are the ones whose ideas must match up with reality. Doers have vision, and even fantasies, but they manage to actually produce like these gamers did. This is a tribute to you, doer.