Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Science Can Be a Game with Citizen Sort

Citizen Science is a great way to learn about the world.  It's also a stimulating intellectual pursuit and fantastic learning opportunity.  It's even a great way to connect with nature all around you.  But most importantly, citizen science is fun.

Today's featured project uses the fun of citizen science to it's advantage.  Citizen Sort uses gaming technology to separate different types of plants and animals using just a photograph.  This can be tricky for even experienced biologists who have to rely on subtle characteristics of each animal to classify it.  Citizen Sort turns this into a game the everyday public can participate in.  As the researchers themselves state:
To aid in identification of the species of specimens, biologists have developed taxonomic keys, which identify species from their particular combinations of characteristics, known as character-state combinations (i.e., attributes and values). The specific characters and states vary by taxon, but are broadly similar in structure. For example, a moth character might be its "orbicular spot," with states including, "absent," "dark," "light," etc. Given sufficient characters and states, it is possible to identify a photographed specimen to a specific family, genus, species, or even sub-species.  To support the biological science goal of image classification, we have developed several games and tools that let ordinary members of the public undertake to classify various photos of living things. Over time, if enough people help out, this project will produce a very large data set of classified photos that will be very useful to natural and biological scientists in a variety of fields!
The Citizen Sort game is actually a collection of games.  As the research team has developed their idea the games have gotten increasingly entertaining and scientifically important.  Their initial effort, Happy Match, identified moths in a very simple game environment.  This led to Happy Rays (a similar program) and then a leap to Forgotten Island.  This is a much more involved game with excellent graphics and a storyline to engage players.  Finally, all this will lead to eventual launching of Hunt and Gather.  It's not ready yet but promises to build on everything from the previous games and take the gaming of citizen science to the next level.

Obviously this helps classify existing images collected by researchers.  But it's also a great tool for computer science researchers looking to improve computer processes that classify animals as well.  So don't just help one them all!

Getting Started is Easy:
  • Visit the Citizen Sort web page to learn more about the project and the various games waiting for you.
  • Register on the front page with your proposed username, e-mail, and date of birth.  That's all the information they need.
  • Once registered,  confirm your account and answer a few simple questions about your interests in science and gaming.  Just to help the designers understand their audience.
  • Click on the Games and Tools tab to see the available games to play.  Pick the most interesting one.
  • That's all there is to it!  Sure, there are instructions on how to play each game, but that's all part of the game itself.  No use for writing up my dry directions...enjoy it by clicking over yourself.
Hopefully I've done justice to the project.  I actually had the good fortune of meeting the research team last year in Portland and am excited to see the progress they've made since then.  So I don't want to let them down. 

Tell them OpenScientist sent 'ya!