Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Playing a computer game has become useful, not just fun

When considering casual games, you can't much more casual than the ESP Game. Log on, then try to match wits with another player and try to supply the same word describing a picture you see.

A means to while away a few minutes (or hours)? Yes. But it's more than that. As reported in the July/August issue of the Utne Reader (link unavailable), the ESP Game, a creation of Luis von Ahn of Carnegie Mellon University, uses the game results to tag photographs for better searching and identification.

Below is a video of Dr. von Ahn discussing human processing, the concept behind the ESP game.

So your wasted time actually has a side benefit. And it's not only games getting in on the action. Those nasty CAPTCHAs that you have to fill in, seemingly everywhere (including for commenting on this blog) feel like complete wasted effort--except that ReCaptcha, another project from Dr. von Ahn and Carnegie Mellon, pulls out words from scanned texts that computers have not been able to read correctly and uses them as CAPTCHAs. Guess the CAPTCHA correctly, and you not only can proceed to your website of choice, you also help make scanned versions of books more accurate.

A good waste of time is getting harder to find.