What if games could do something practical while they entertain us? What if by playing games you weren't simply entertaining yourself and others, but adding to the grand sum of human knowledge? This is the idea behind an ongoing academic project entitled "Games With A Purpose." The project, which focuses on the work of a young assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon, Luis Von Ahn, has one specific objective: to create games with useful computational side-effects.
Von Ahn observed that billions of hours of our time are sunk into games as minor as Windows solitaire. He then speculated that this wasted time could be put to practical use. In fact, Von Ahn calculated, more man-hours go into solitaire each month than were expended on building the entire Panama Canal between 1904 and 1914. If someone could come up with a methodology for harnessing these boundless intellectual energies, who knows what could be accomplished?