Gaming Out The Brain

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Neuroscientist Sebastian Seung wants to develop a better picture of the human brain – with your help. EyeWire is a browser-based game developed by Seung’s lab at MIT that invites players to map the connections between retinal neurons:

[Creative director Amy] Robinson says it currently takes the lab around 50 hours to reconstruct one neuron, even with help from artificial intelligence. Multiply that by the 85 billion (the approximate number of neurons in a human brain), and you can see how they might need some help.

Turns out, citizen scientists are very good helpers. Humans are more adept at spotting the patterns of neuron connectors than most machines are, which is why every player’s moves are recorded and fed to artificial intelligence to help machines get better at this very task. Since EyeWire’s public launch in December, more than 70,000 people have played the game. In total, they’ve colored in more than a million 3-D neuron cubes (each cube represents a tiny chunk of brain), resulting in the mapping of 26 whole cells.

“It takes players about three minutes on average to complete a cube,” says Robinson, “So they’ve spent an equivalent of six years of time on EyeWire since the launch.” In the grand scheme of the brain, 26 cells might not seem like much, but that’s a testament to the game’s emphasis on accuracy (anywhere from five to 25 people will trace the same set of connectors before it’s deemed valid).

(Photo via Eyewire)