World renowned neuroscientist Sebastian Seung has dedicated countless hours to researching the brain.
But it’s an online game Seung helped develop, called EyeWire, that could provide a breakthrough way to map the organ.
The game is similar to similar to Foldit, an online puzzle game about protein folding.
Instead of a single scientist painstakingly tracing neural pathways, a task the New York Times describes as “akin to tracing the full length of every strand of pasta in a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs using pens and thousands of blurry black-and-white photos,” EyeWire transforms the task into a fun interactive challenge.
Players in EyeWire are challenged to map branches of a neuron from one side of a cube to the other.
The game is a type of 3D puzzle: As players scroll through a cube, they reconstruct neurons in volumetric segments with the help of an artificial intelligence algorithm, the EyeWire website explains.
The game has already attracted over 160,000 players in 145 countries. Players do not need a scientific background to play EyeWire.
The game has attracted a wide age range: Lorinda, a Missouri grandmother who also paints watercolors plays the game regularly, and Iliyan, a high-school student in Bulgaria, once played EyeWire for nearly 24 hours straight, The New York Times reports.
Eventually, Seung anticipates human players may be replaced or supplemented by artificial intelligence. But in the meantime, he is actively recruiting more human players.
Korea Telecom, South Korea’s largest telecom company, announced a partnership with EyeWire this summer and has promoted the game with a nationwide ad campaign.
Seung is also hoping to incorporate a storyline and characters into his basic puzzle game.
“Think of what we could do if we could capture even a small fraction of the mental effort that goes into Angry Birds,” he said.