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Plugged In

The Pentagon taps gamers for weapons testing

Plugged In

The U.S. military has a problem.

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Working out the bugs in the software that controls modern weapon systems is proving too complex, too difficult, and worst of all, too expensive. In short, the top Pentagon brass needs help. But they're not reaching out to the usual teams of academics, programmers, or engineers.

Instead, they're asking gamers.

The U.S. military's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is about to embark on a multi-million dollar project to investigate whether the skills of today's gamers can be tapped to improve the reliability of military equipment, reports NextGov.

Sounds a little like the plot of a 'Super 8'-style 80s throwback flick, but it's not fiction.

Currently the bug-hunting job is done by experts who scour the code for errors, one painstaking line at a time. As weaponry becomes more automated and the tech gets more complex, that task is becoming increasingly lengthy and difficult. DARPA hopes to change the process from a highly specialized, hands-on affair to a game that's straightforward enough for everyday gamers to play -- and entertaining enough to keep them coming back for more.

What kind of game, exactly? DARPA's work is still in the planning stages,but expect it to be more of an abstract puzzler and less of a detailed simulation of high-tech weaponry. Think Bejeweled, not Call of Duty.

Unlikely as it sounds, it's not the first time researchers have tapped gamers to solve intractable technological problems. Back in September, players of a specially-designed puzzle game called Foldit successfully deciphered the structure of a complex enzyme in just three weeks -- a problem that had been puzzling scientists for a decade.

DARPA, however, isn't anticipating such a quick finish: its project is anticipated to run for the next four years.

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