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March 6, 2015

With a computer and an internet connection, you can help scientists map the human brain just by playing a video game.



Crowd-sourcing the brain. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

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(Credit: Alex Norton/Eyewire, Seung Lab, MIT)

Some people think video games are a waste of time. But their popularity could be a boon to science. For instance, researchers at MIT created a game called Eyewire, in which players compete to map the neurons of the human retina. Eyewire’s creative director Amy Robinson says it normally takes a scientist about 50 hours to map just one brain cell. But Eyewire’s 100,000-plus players can get the task done much faster.

AMY ROBINSON (Massachusetts Institute of Technology):

People will spend about 3 billion hours every week playing online games, so we thought, ‘what if we could turn our lab software into a game and invite anyone, anywhere with an internet connection to help us map the wires of perception?’


She says new players don’t need any neuroscience background. And once they become accurate enough, they move up to higher levels, eventually earning the right to map entirely uncharted sections of a neuron. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

bright neuron branches

Neuron branches. (Credit: Alex Norton/Eyewire, Seung Lab, MIT)