Thousands Of Gamers Help Scientists Map The Neural Networks Of The Human Eye

August 22, 2014 | Sophie Weiner

Even with the technology we have today, studying the inner workings of the human eye is still challenging. Mapping the neural network of an eye would require “100 people… to work 24/7 for half a million years,” in order to complete it. That’s not too efficient, so MIT developed a game called EyeWire to help with this daunting task. The players follow the path of a single nerve across a tiny section of a mouse’s retina. “It’s actually extremely challenging,”  EyeWire’s creative director Amy Robinson told Popular Science. “No computer program can do it automatically.” 

After a year and a half of 135,000 people playing the mapping game, scientists were able to create a 3D replica of retinal nerves and use it to study how the eye sees motion. The simple game, which essentially tests your ability to color inside the lines, is surprisingly addicting, so it’s not hard to imagine how so many people spent their time participating in the study. 

The scientists’ next game will focus on the olfactory cortex, using  similar method to examine “how the brain associates emotions with particular smells. ” (Images: Louise Hughes/Science Photo Library, EyeWire)