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Play games and save the world (or at least part of it)? That’s what a new Facebook game, Fraxinus, promises. Coming out of academia (see this press release) the game allows players to match patterns and thus help scientists understand how the disease attacking the ash tree (Fraxinus excelsior) works.

I’ve played a few rounds but, while I appreciate the concept, I am not entirely convinced. Perhaps I simply lack the competitive instinct that should make me want to press on to claim yet another pattern, stealing existing claims off other players? However, I can’t help wondering whether my basic algorithm (shift each row left and right, looking for the combination with the highest score) couldn’t be much more effectively handled by a little programming.

There might still be scope for human ingenuity to make tweaks (and a bit more explanation of how to use the interface wouldn’t go amiss) but I am very much in favour of computers doing the mundane grunt work they excel at, leaving humans to focus on the areas where our spontaneity can really shine.

  • hbw

    Tend to agree. Their argument is about spotting patterns (which humans are good at), but, like you, I tended to go for the maximizing score approach and found that when I got what I though was a better visual match my score often went down. Not sure whether it’s been badly designed or badly explained.

    This sort of approach has worked well for other things like Galaxy Zoo.