On the intersection of technology, culture, and everyday life: My semi-updated space to collect and link my thoughts about interesting things I spot.
Work has me thinking a lot about games and the value of user participation/user-generated content. While re-researching the work of Luis von Ahn, an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon, a friend pointed me to a dated, but good presentation about Human Computation that summarizes some of his projects and his general approach to constructing "games for a purpose".
Getting people to enjoy helping/working for free is an oversimplification, but it is part of the brilliance of von Ahn’s ideas. He approaches the issue of improving computer weaknesses in novel way — by creating games that people like and that simultaneously gather human-processed information to solve tasks that are trivial for humans but continue to challenge computer programs. For example, in the ESP Game, when people play, they help label images on the Web with descriptive keywords. These keywords can then be used to improve the accuracy of image search. (Other examples include Peekaboom, which helps determine the location of objects in images, and Verbosity, which collects common-sense knowledge.) What surprised me the most was the number of people who found these games "fun" (or at least spent a good deal of time on them) and the simple game design components that achieved that funness factor.
The short presentation starts with an eye-opening statistic. In 2003, 9 billion human hours were spent playing Solitaire. In comparison, it took 7 million human hours to build the Empire State Building, and 20 million to build the Panama Canal. All this has my mind churning about similar purposeful, but opportunistic endeavors.