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February 11, 2012: The U.S. Department of Defense is setting up a website that allows anyone to play puzzles, which are actually tests for new military software. The Department of Defense was encouraged to do this because of the success of websites like Foldit, where anyone can play puzzles which are actually systems that allow a player to come up with better ways to fold proteins, or EteRNA where players can try to design better RNA molecules. Both of these activities help discover cures for diseases. For a long time it was believed that computers, following programmed rules, would be better at solving these problems. But it was also believed that some people are clever enough to outthink software routines and this proved to be true. This sort of thing is called crowdsourcing. Strategypage uses something like that with its Prediction Market.

The Department of Defense use of crowdsourcing is needed to fix the growing problems with difficult to detect flaws in software. One of the major problems with modern military equipment and weapons is developing software to operate them. In combat a software crash can be fatal to the operator, not just annoying. Rebooting a weapon or piece of equipment takes time, and while that's going on, you are vulnerable to enemy detection or fire. So puzzles have been developed which are actually tests of the software. People seeking to solve the puzzles will come up with unusual solutions, which will in turn test the underlying software in ways the developers, or their software testing software, had not thought of. This will find software flaws that would otherwise not be discovered, if ever, until the system the software supports was being used by troops.

 

 


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