After checking the list of projects, I was not disappointed. I went to about five different websites, and finally settled on a project called Eyewire. It was a project where you helped to map neurons, a job that is difficult for artificial intelligence and humans alike. The idea behind the project is that thousands of brains is better than one, by participating in the project, you help neuro-researchers discover how neurons connect and network to process information, and help improve computers abilities to map them.
Eyewire is basically a video game. You are given a 3D and a 2D image of a neuron. At the beginning of the game, a part of the neuron is highlighted. Using your mouse, you have to click on the parts of the neuron adjacent to the part that is highlighted.
During the tutorial period of the game, you are told wether or not the part that you clicked was correct. If it is correct, it shows up green, if not it shows up red. After the tutorials however, you aren’t told where you went wrong. You simply click away until you thing that your neuron is correct, then you click “I’m Finished”. You are then awarded points. The better you did, the more points you earn. Your points are shown on a leaderboard. You are ranked, and can see how well you did, compared to people from all over the world.
Like most video games, Eyewire quickly became addictive. The addiction was mostly out of frustration however, not enjoyment of the game. After spending a quarter of an hour on a neuron, I would hit submit only to find out I only got awarded ten points, when the leaderboard showed me people earning several hundred points. I would play again, and again, and again, convinced that this was going to be the time I did well.
Every once and a while, I did do quite well on a neuron. At one point, I was even number one on the leaderboard. The problem was, I didn’t know what I was doing right. After the first five tutorial games, there was absolutely no instruction available to learn how to play the game. My other frustration with the game was the fact that I didn’t get to learn anything. When I started the project, I was excited and had high hopes that I would get to learn about neuroscience while playing the game. All the game designers would have had to do to help people learn while playing the game would be to put “Fun Facts” after every level.
I’m glad I picked Eyewire for my citizen science project. It was mostly fun, and relatively simple. If I was given the choice to do it again though, I would probably decline. The game caused too much frustration, and I felt that, as a participant in the project, there wasn’t any outcome.
If you are considering Eyewire for your citizen science project, don’t let me turn you off of it. I do recommend though, that you play around with it for yourself before committing to it as a project.