Algorithm discovery by protein folding game players

Khatib, F., Cooper S., Tyka M. D., Xu K., Makedon I., Popovic Z., et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA (2011)

To determine whether high performing Foldit player strategies could be collectively codified, we augmented the Foldit gameplay mechanics with tools for players to encode their folding strategies as “recipes” and to share their recipes with other players, who are able to further modify and redistribute them. Players developed over 5,400 different recipes, and two of the recipes became particularly dominant. Examination of the algorithms encoded in these two recipes revealed a striking similarity to an unpublished algorithm developed by scientists over the same period. Benchmark calculations show that the new algorithm independently discovered by scientists and by Foldit players outperforms previously published methods. Thus, online scientific game frameworks have the potential not only to solve hard scientific problems, but also to discover and formalize effective new strategies and algorithms.