What if you could apply your hours of weekly video game time to curing diseases like cancer? What if that same principle could be applied to the billions of gamers who share in this hobby around the world? These are the sorts of questions that Robert Atkins, CEO of Balanced Media|Technology has posited to the larger gaming community. The result of his work is a company with a bold vision: to utilize the millions upon millions of weekly hours put into gaming and convert it into computational ability to unravel complex medical problems. We had a chance to ask Mr. Atkins a few questions about his company…take a look.
Tell us about Balanced Media|Technology (BMT)/Games Advancing Medical Treatment. When did the company start, and what was the inspiration?
Starting in 2016, the founders of BALANCED had the goal to create the world’s first super human computer platform which uses online game playing to combine human intuition with artificial intelligence for a powerful new way to unravel highly complex data and uncover solutions to big problems faster and more accurately than ever before.
There are 2.6 billion gamers in the world, the average gamer spends 6 hours per day playing video games, this includes our own kids – the real inspiration. Our HEWMEN platform captures those hours spent on interactive entertainment and converts them into hours of interactive problem solving.
Imagine simply playing or even streaming Minecraft for example, (or any online game for that matter), those same hours are now helping shorten the time to reach discoveries for Cancer treatments. This is exactly what we are doing. Our platform in games works simultaneously across a number of diseases and industrial problems, which brings purpose to play.
What were you doing before working with BMT? How did your previous work and this work intersect, if at all?
Our founders have a wide range of professional disciplines from healthcare to technology architecture. My background is traditional game development and education. For the past 25 years, I’ve contributed heavily to 30 titles (50 titles overall), as a Co-designer and Creative Director. You could say I’ve helped fuel the massive gaming machine with traditional entertainment since 1993, contributing to franchises like Duke Nukem 3D, Quake, SiN, Heavy Metal, Star Trek, LUXOR, Tomb Raider and Counter Strike.
However, games can do way more than just entertain. It’s already proven, it’s just not focused.
There is nothing this industry and the talented people who work in it, can’t do. It just takes intent to build a technology which connects previously disjointed components to unlock opportunities. Citizen Science and using games for good or alternative purpose has been around for years, but thus far the solutions are one-offs, lacking scalability and sad to say, a meaningful revenue model to attract quality developers to build attractive content. These three items needed to be solved to have a chance at industry adoption.
BMT utilizes a unique computing network known as “HEWMEN” – how does it work, and what sort of problems are you assigning to it?
Our HEWMEN technology is a general-purpose platform that converts idle computer cycles into a valuable commodity by connecting online communities to causes they care about. This unique approach combines the best of human intelligence within machine intelligence, creating a new breed of software applications where people are now part of the computing process.
HEWMEN connects communities and industry in cross disciplinary collaboration allowing them to create tools and techniques never before available. HEWMEN will improve traditional data science algorithms by incorporating Human-Assisted Machine Learning with gameplay. This means that the insight and intuition of the person in front of the computer screen guides and improves the software running behind it.
What makes video games a unique platform for solving complex research problems?
Players who have great gaming rigs, are solving problems with each minute they play, it is baked right into the experience. So we connect the gameplay loop to algorithms, players don’t need to realize they are solving a medical problem; they simply need to enjoy playing. It’s no longer the one-off citizen science problem, and this approach will naturally harness the world’s greatest renewable resources — human intelligence and imagination — to solve some of the world’s most complex problems.
The result is a collaborative computing platform that calls on the socially driven gaming community to “play out the problem” through specially-designed game interfaces imbedded with real world data. This approach will allow players to quickly and accurately sort through millions of complex data sets to surface testable hypotheses that today, require thousands of man and machine hours to uncover. This is the future of Super HEWMEN Computing.
A little over 10 years ago, Havok created a physics engine which at the time became a standard plugin for adding simulated physics into games, and today, physics is a standard feature in games. We are adding a new feature to games, Human Guided AI and Machine Learning, which directly links the input of the community to help solve meaningful problems with play. In 10 years, just like with physics, human guided AI \ machine learning will be a standard we’ve added to the industry.
What are the video game titles that you’re currently focused on, and how do they contribute to BMT’s research?
Because the platform is game, engine and problem agnostic, we have it working in Minecraft with Cancer Research, multiple Unreal games like Wiley Wizard with Cancer research & Cyber Security and Eye in the Sky: Defender with Eye Disease.
We even have the platform processing FDA approved compounds in a discovery pipeline working in Unity while you simply play PacMan and\or Qbert, just to make the point the platform can connect to an existing game. The goal is to make this technology available to the industry for free, so developers can incorporate into their games so they too will be helping researchers find the right treatments faster and make a totally new revenue stream.
Our in-house flagship product using the technology is The 8 CELL which takes place inside the human body. The player gets to kill the things trying to kill us, while the HEWMEN platform is processing real-world medical problems in the background. Players will literally be fighting Cancer while they play The 8 CELL.
We have seen the power of The 8 CELL already when we helped grant a Make-A-Wish come true. A child with Medullary Blastoma wished to make a game where he could “kill Cancer.” We surprised Jimmy with playing The 8 CELL which allowed him to visualize the fight against cancer in a way that was more real and impactful to him. He relayed how being able to take the fight directly to Cancer gave Jimmy feelings of hope and empowerment, improving his wellbeing. He loved knowing that his actions in the game were also having impact on finding treatments for him and others.
Jimmy went from feeling powerless over his condition to having a tool to focus on winning. Not unlike what a professional athlete does when preparing for a game. Great news, his fully recovered, tumor free and just started back to school this month.
We are now finishing the build out this hyper focused version of the game so that other children who have cancer can “kill cancer” while getting treatment. We are working with LSU-HSC and St Jude to roll this out pilot next year.
What will you be spotlighting/showcasing at PAX West?
We are looking to create a movement in the industry, and it starts with the leaders who have been speaking about “gaming doing more than just entertain.” The panel “Saving the World one Game at a Time” features those leaders, like Kate Edwards, Child’s Play Charity, Paul Bettner of Playful Corp, Katie S. Perez from Microsoft’s Mixer and our CTO Dr. Corey Clark who invented the HEWMEN platform. They all have been carrying the torch and have amazing stories to share.
At BALANCED, we feel with the HEWMEN platform, it is finally possible to pull all of these disconnected pieces together for industry impact.
Any other comments or plugs for other upcoming events?
Nothing really to plug, other than people can download our HEWMEN alpha, and play some early access games: http://www.balancedmediatechnology.com/projects/hewmen/
Competition Winner Announcements:
Alpha Launch Event Coverage, Using video games and machine learning to help identify treatments for multi drug resistant cancers.