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Human vs AI - Gamers Helping Scientists

What is the compelling question or challenge?

Through a popular, open world game with NSF highlight challenges, gamers learn science while aiding scientists as human intelligence in simulations that typically use machine learning or artificial intelligence (AI).

What do we know now about this Big Idea and what are the key research questions we need to address?

What do we know now about this Big Idea and what are the key research questions we need to address?

You are in a silent school room filled with children seemingly playing an advanced and complex game that simulates battles where the children are generals. However, these children are not playing at all, but instead managing a real battle with real people. This is the situation in “Ender’s Game.” What if I told you that this scenario isn’t just science fiction? We can use games to help scientists solve problems. A Danish group has done just this with a game called “Quantum Moves” in which the gamers intuit approximate wavefunctions which algorithms fine tune ( This study showed that humans combined with an algorithm are much more powerful than each alone. Many National Science Foundation (NSF) highlights feature machine learning to solve complex problems. An alternative to algorithms is to use the nimble minds of gamers or human intelligence (HI). An NSF-sponsored open world game giving challenges based on NSF highlights can use gamers as HI in a mixed computer-human hybrid system. Challenges can also teach gamers science in a simplified system. The challenges will show gamers the myriad of sciences that are available to them. Gamers will earn badges which can be posted on social media, both advertising the game and NSF sponsored research. Through an NSF sponsored open world game, scientists will help gamers learn science and gamers will help scientists with their research serving as willing HI.

Before NSF can create this open world game which simultaneously teaches gamers and uses them as HI, we must address several questions. What is the best software paradigm for reaching a wide audience while allowing scientists to contribute modules to share their expertise and use the gamers as HI at the same time? Most scientists code in FORTRAN, C/C++, or Python without the graphics that gamers expect. Furthermore, in open world games gamers expect to have the ability to explore freely and interact with a simulated world. Can a platform be developed that would allow scientists to contribute their NSF highlight ideas and HI projects in their native language but with gamer quality graphics? Gamers seek new challenges and also a corresponding reward. Can challenges and rewards be made that meet gamers’ expectations? What are the best ways to lure gamers either individually or in teams from a psychological or educational perspective? Is giving in-game and social media recognition enough? Do pro-gamers receive greater challenges, or new entertainment opportunities like better gear or in-game money?

This open-world game provides a gateway between the virtual and real world. Three examples for modules follow. All program areas of the NSF can also contribute to the modules. In the questions above, currency may allow gamers to create their own system of economics. This environment can be used to study the development of economic systems. Materials chemistry modules would not just teach gamers about science, but use gamers to extrapolate and hypothesize new materials as HI. A module implementing the physics of fracture modules will encourage the gamers to use new and better materials to build their base and to think about how and where to place the materials in order build an effective fortification. Additionally, gamers would be better prepared to understand and enter science as a career. A growing number of NSF projects use machine learning. Investigating ways to use this HI/algorithm hybrid effectively would be critical to success in future research. New algorithms and computer paradigms would need development. Ensuring gamer satisfaction and advertisement of badges in social media will be important in attracting more players and therefore increasing the HI computing power. Not only is this new tool a way of involving gamers in research as inspired by “Ender’s Game”, but it provides a completely new research area and resource in the interaction of machine and HI.

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