Pentagon to Enlist Gamers to Debug Weapons Systems

If you’re a gamer, the Pentagon wants you. And it won’t require a uniform or a buzz cut.

It wants to combine two trends, crowdsourcing and gaming, in a $32 million project to develop better and less expensive ways to debug software in complex weapons systems.

It had success combining the two last year when gamers made news by creating a model of an enzyme in an AIDS-like virus, a key to understanding how the disease matures and proliferates. The puzzle had stumped scientists for more than a decade. Gamers, however, solved the puzzle in just three weeks. That University of Washington research was funded by the military’s venture capital and research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the same outfit looking for weapons debugging.

Another effort asked gamers to help come up with ways to deal with Somali pirates.

In this project, the goal is to create puzzles that are “intuitively understandable by ordinary people” — folks playing on laptops, smartphones, tablets and consoles. The solutions to these puzzles are to be collected into a massive database and used to analyze software. quotes Adrien Treuille, an assistant computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, who has been involved in the crowdsourcing efforts, as saying:

One of the really exciting things is that when we inject a new kind of problem in the world and provide tools to solve that problem, experts at the task just emerge.

The request for proposals calls for “hundreds of thousands of games” tailored to each specific software problem. It also wants software “robots” to play along with humans, something considered cheating in games such as World of Warcraft or Modern Warfare 3, according to Innovation News Daily. It says the debugging work now falls to an estimated 1,000 experts, though as weapons systems grow more complex, the process has become too costly to apply beyond “small, critical software components,” the RFP says. And, of course, these bugs can be deadly.

Games increasingly are being used in all sorts of business purposes, and the military is busy incorporating them. Gartner has predicted that by 2015 more than half of all organizations will be using games in their innovation efforts.

However, the ideas of asking the public to help debug military systems gives some security experts the willies. Nasir Memon, director of the Information Systems and Internet Security Laboratory at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, told that the results could be rigged. He said:

They could collude and play the game to show there are no security problems. How can you trust results from that?

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