Human Brain Cloud - a massively multiplayer word association game that started with a single word ("volcano") and has since taken on a life of its own. Players are given a word, which is culled from the database of previously entered words, and asked to enter the first thing that comes to mind. As people interact with the game it collects data about word associations that can be formed into a giant network (the cloud).Earlier this year game designer Kyle Gabler put up a just-for-fun side project called
As Gabler explains, "For instance given the word 'volcano', a common word people might submit would be 'lava', and this would result in a very strong connection between 'volcano' and 'lava'. On the other hand, given the word 'volcano', fewer people might associate it with something like 'birthday party', resulting in a very weak connection or no connection at all. Over time and with many players, I hope the cloud will gradually grow to represent words and phrases people tend to associate with other words and phrases, assuming it doesn't get inundated with spam."
Since the site's launch, over a third of a million people have made 5.6 million connections between half a million words. It would appear that Gabler got his wish of many players and a large map of word associations.
In July, Gabler posted some preliminary findings on his company's blog about what Human Brain Cloud had learned so far. At the time, with about a fifth of the total amount of data that the site has since gathered, the most oft-submitted word was "sex" followed by "me" and then "money." Gabler concluded snarkily, "If this experiment had an scientific credibility, IÄôd say humans were more horny than narcissistic or greedy."
The direction and use of Human Brain Cloud is completely controlled by the people who use it, and interestingly they took the site in some rather unexpected directions. Fairly shortly after launching the experiment, Gabler began to notice that people weren't just using the site to associate words with other words, but also phrases. Such as, "I am..." with "...a human." While playing a few minutes ago I was served up "shall inherit the earth," which I unimaginatively connected with "the meek" (a connection also made by 18 other people).
The strongest connections? "Mona" -> "lisa," "ping" -> pong," "and found" -> "lost" (the latter suggesting that people have no problem making connections even when common phrases are spoken out of order -- "found" -> "lost" is also on the top 10 strongest list).
While Gabler likes to joke that the site has no academic value ("This isn't academically rigorous or anything, so set your expectations accordingly," he warns on Human Brain Cloud's about page), recent research indicates that the type of connections the site is revealing may actually have worthwhile academic implications. Researchers at the University of California recently conducted a study in which they found evidence to suggest that our brains catalog and rate the relevance of information by forming connections between data. The researchers compared the brain's system to Google's PageRank algorithm, but there are obvious similarities to the massive word association map that the Human Brain Cloud is compiling as well.
Regardless of whether Human Brain Cloud will ever help spur advances in neuroscience, it is a fun way to waste a few minutes.