Mozak: a game that crowdsources the detailed mapping of brain-cells

Mozak is a game where you score points for participating in the mass-scale, crowdsourced mapping of dendrites in scanned brains of humans, rodents, and other organisms.

The tracing-tasks are repeatedly performed by different players, who emerge a consensus that corrects for individual errors. It's similar to re:CAPTCHA, which used login/authentication screens to refine machine-vision guesses at the ambiguous words.

The game itself is surprisingly fun! It was created by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's "Allen Institute for Brain Science" at the University of Washington — which is led by Zoran Popović, who created the Foldit game that made significant advances in understanding protein folding.

The key to Mozak is to allow humans to do what they are good at, and computers to do what they are good at. In this case, humans exceedingly outperform computers with their ability to resolve and trace objects in 3 dimensions. Although computers can complete the reconstruction of robustly traced neurons, many neurons have delicate and highly branched structures that your eyes will distinguish far better. Your ability to do this will help us to build systems that work better at doing this, and can lead to focused discoveries in this space. Like other science games, computers can quickly simulate, verify, and potentially perform local optimizations on player designs — something that would be tedious and inefficient for humans to perform. By discovering new 3-dimensional neuronal arborization patterns, eventually matching them to firing and genetic patterns, and then simulating them in the game, we hope that you will come up with new ideas that can be applied to ongoing research in the field.


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