My first encounter with using a home computer to help with an effort beyond my own personal needs was with the SETI@Home all. Hundreds of thousands of computers, maybe millions worked together to see if signals from space could contain alien messages.
But this game, Foldit, allowed gamers to solve a mystery that has baffled AIDS researchers regarding the structure of a protein.
What's interesting is that we've seen this in Stargate Altantis already. Eli Wallace, a slacker genius, solved a problem that the best scientific minds in the Stargate program were unable to solve by playing a video game that requires coming up with the answer to that problem.
And with Foldit, we might be on the verge of coming up with many more protein breakthrough simply by getting gamers to solve them for us.
Furthermore, Foldit adds a level of interaction and some rudimentary social network that helps things along the way for users.
And the problems that can be solved or probably goes beyond deciphering the structure of a protease but I can see a whole host of new applications.
Who knows, maybe the Sim City games have helped urban planners for years. Or maybe a disaster game can help the government develop better plans in the event of a natural or mam-made disaster. Or a game that helps humanity go to Mars and beyond.
I think the success of Foldit and the publicity has helped with the idea of "citizen scientist" who may not have an advanced science degree but has the brilliance and potential to solve problems that baffle scientific community.
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