In 2005, in a posting on Reality War Games, I suggested the possibility that a well equipped military might create an on-line game that recruited gamers from around the world to participate in the simulation of a planned, real-life, military offensive. Something of much the same kind has just been announced in a paper (doi:10.1038/nsmb.2119) published in the journal, Nature Structural and Molecular Biology.
Online players of the protein folding game Foldit were awarded points for producing progressively more accurate models of the protein known as M-PMV retroviral protease. Players scored points according to the energy state of the protein fold that they produced. The lower the energy state of the folded protein, the higher a player’s score. The Foldit players were able to generate models of sufficient quality that it was then possible to build on those models to determine the actual structure of the protein. So, the idea no longer seems so remote that the next massively parallel multi-player online game that you join will actually be a rehersal for World War III.
Khatib, F., Dimaio, F., Foldit Contenders Group, Foldit Void Crushers Group, Cooper, S., Kazmierczyk, M., Gilski, M., Krzywda, S., Zabranska, H., Pichova, I., Thompson, J., Popović, Z., Jaskolski, M., & Baker, D. (2011). Crystal structure of a monomeric retroviral protease solved by protein folding game players. Nature Structural and Molecular Biology, doi: 10.1038/nsmb.2119
Contributors: Mark R. Diamond