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DARPA seeks game players to join bug-hunt

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DARPA, which last week launched a multi-million-dollar bug hunt, is also trying out the notion of using games to help track down bugs in commercial software.

However, while last week's bounty is targeting hackers, the Crowd Sourced Formal Verification project is hoping to use mug punters to find bugs in commercial-style software – rather like every software vendor on earth, but instead of us having to suffer BSODs or crashing applications, DARPA wants to make it fun.

Hence Verigames, which the agency wants to use to translate the “hard math” of formal software verification into something that the untrained can accomplish by playing games.

As DARPA puts it: “The CSFV games translate players’ actions into program annotations and generate mathematical proofs to verify the absence of important classes of flaws in software written in the C and Java programming languages. CSFV aims to investigate whether large numbers of non-experts playing formal verification games can perform formal verification faster and more cost-effectively than conventional processes.”

DARPA program manager Drew Dean said: “We’re seeing if we can take really hard math problems and map them onto interesting, attractive puzzle games that online players will solve for fun.”

The program has been launched with five games – CircuitBot (run a team of robots), Flow Jam (adjusting a cable network to maximise its flow), Ghost Map (find a path through a brain network), StormBound (discover symbols in a windstorm) and Xylem (use maths to catalogue plant species).

Under the hood, the agency says, the games “translate players' actions into program annotations that help formal verification”. In this instance, the gameplay is testing C and Java code present in common open-source software.

If harmful bugs are discovered, DARPA says it will notify the organisation responsible for the software. ®

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