A few days ago I highlighted the DARPA Network Challenge where a team from MIT used social media to locate ten giant red balloons scattered throughout the U.S. Today I want to share another story with you, one that you may have heard of; about a small team of scientists that created a game out of folding proteins called Foldit.
For the past 15 years scientists were working on a problem of trying to figure out a particular structure of an AIDS causing virus in monkeys. Something which clearly has implications for humans. Nobody was able to figure out the structure of this virus so a small team from the University of Washington decided to crowd-source the problem by turning it into a game. Thousands of participants joined the game to solve the puzzle. What scientists couldn’t accomplish in 15 years was solved within 3 weeks by random participants; many of whom had no science background. Today there are hundreds of thousands of players solving science problems and the creators of Foldit are continuously adding more features and challenges for the world to solve.
The site today features things such as a discussion forum, a player leader-board, and regular contests.
Other similar games were created one called Phylo focuses on DNA patterns and another called EteRNA focuses on the folding of RNA molecules.
These are all fascinating games which tap into the collective intelligence and wisdom of thousands of people around the world to solve problems. These are problems that can’t be crunched by computers but instead rely on human intelligence, innovation, intuition, and creativity.
Enterprises have the unique ability to do similar things within their organizations and collective intelligence is just one the benefits of what creating a collaborative organization can achieve. We now live in a world where problems aren’t solved by who you know but who you don’t know; or the strength of weak ties.