Scientists have launched a new game site designed to make computers smarter by harnessing the cognition of the humans playing the games. Gwap.com, short for games with a purpose, takes a Tom Sawyer approach to solving age-old computer problems by repackaging normally mundane tasks as online fun.
The games are the brainchild of Luis von Ahn, the Carnegie Mellon University professor whose research led to the CAPTCHA, which is used by websites to prevent computer scripts from signing up for accounts. The puzzles with blurred images and squiggly lines take advantage of computers' inherent difficulty recognizing patterns.
It turns out that isn't the only task that eludes computers. They're also not much good at taking an image and telling you if it's a cat or a dog, or describing if a song is happy or sad. So von Ahn is hoping to get online gamers to lend a hand to help change all that.
Gwap.com randomly matches players and engages them in a game that requires them to exchange tags that describe images, sounds and other data that's presented to them at the same time. One game called "Tag a Tune" gives players a clip of a song or a noise and then challenges them to enter as many tags as possible over the next several minutes. Players receive points each time their tag matches that of their partner.
"As people are playing this game, they're doing something useful for the world," von Ahn says. Initially, he plans to use the data to tag a large store of sounds and images he has on hand. Eventually, he hopes the tags will help teach computers how to generate the tags themselves.
Other games on the site include "Matchin, in which players judge which of two images is better looking, Verbosity, which amasses facts for use by artificial intelligence programs, and Squigl, which requires player to trace the outlines of objects in pictures to help teach computer to recognize items photographs. ®