studying the nature of crowds playing Foldit called some strategies
“shocking” in how well they mimicked some of the methods already used by
made headlines in September for unraveling the structure of a protein
central to research on AIDS. Today, in a paper published online at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,
University of Washington researchers reveal the creative power of
Foldit players’ strategies and compare them to the best-known
enabled players to create and improve each other’s best recipes to play
the game. Once we looked at the variety and creativity of these
recipes, we were shocked to find state-of-the-art algorithms.” said
Zoran Popovic, principal investigator of the Foldit Project and the
Director of the Center for Game Science. Foldit is developed by the
Center in collaboration with the biochemistry laboratory of David Baker.
us, this paper is even more exciting than the one in September,” said
Firas Khatib, a co-author on both papers and a researcher in the Baker
lab. Baker, also principal investigator on the project, has been
exploring ways to further protein structure research using distributed
computing for many years with the Rosetta@home project.
studying the most effective formal recipes or algorithms that players
used to solve protein structure puzzles, the group hopes to formalize
complex strategies and apply them widely to scientific problems, Khatib
explained. (An algorithm is a list of instructions for a computer
program.) In the game, these lists are called recipes.
our previous papers, we proved that a scientific-discovery game can
solve long-standing scientific problems, but this paper shows how gamers
codified their strategies, shared them and improved them. This is just
the beginning of what Foldit players are capable of solving,” explained
Seth Cooper, the primary architect and co-creator of Foldit and the
creative director of the Center for Game Science.
put 721 gamers under a magnifying glass during a three-month period,
and studied their play in detail. These players used tools for creating,
editing, sharing and rating game-playing recipes within the Foldit
game. One of these, dubbed Blue Fuse, was the most popular recipe used
in the game.
the game, puzzlers must build proteins that show certain
characteristics—including using the least energy. This is called “energy
optimization.” Blue Fuse scored well in designing proteins for this
requirement. In a surprising turn, Blue Fuse also bore a striking
resemblance to a scientist-built yet-unpublished algorithm from the
Baker lab that they named “Fast Relax.”
playing the game, including the author of Blue Fuse who plays under the
Foldit username Vertex, were surprisingly willing to share their
recipes. Sharing, which may seem odd for competitive people, proved
quite common among Foldit players. “I shared BF fully because Foldit is
so much more than a game—the competition is serious and fierce, but we
are also trying to improve the understanding of huge biological
proteins. We collaborate and compete at the same time,” Vertex wrote. He
pointed out that he built Blue Fuse partly borrowing from the elegance
of another recipe by a different gamer, “Acid Tweeker.”
Fuse spawned from Acid Tweeker…and now has many children of its own. To
‘Fuze’ has even become a Foldit verb. And the next flash of inspiration
can come from literally anyone,” he wrote via email.
researchers hope to find ways to almost automate human intuition,
Khatib pointed out that this study demonstrates the remarkably flexible
nature of the gamer intelligence.
players employ recipes only to do certain tasks at different stages of
their puzzling,” he said. Used at the wrong time, even Blue Fuse would
not give you an advantage. “The art of discovery still rests with
creative game play and how and where to use the codified strategies,”
team has loaded the newest version of Foldit to allow players more
creativity and more scripting tools. They wait to see what Foldit-player
ingenuity and social gaming will discover next.
project was developed by the UW Center for Game Science in
collaboration with the Baker laboratory, with funding from the U.S.
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the U.S. National
Science Foundation, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Adobe and
co-authors are the Foldit players themselves, Michael Tyka,
postdoctoral researcher in the Baker lab, and Kefan Xu and Ilya Makedon,
both software engineers at the Center for Game Science. Foldit videos
are on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/user/uwFoldit