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XPRIZE creates Code Games challenge for kids

Game screenshot
The Code Games challenge provides incentives for kids to create video games that play on the themes of exploration, the environment and equity. (Endless Network / E-Line Media / XPRIZE Graphic)

XPRIZE’s latest program to incentivize innovation is going after a new demographic: young people between the ages of 10 and 18 who are up for developing video games that play on the themes of exploration, the environment and social equity.

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Protein puzzle game finds 99 ways to beat virus

Protein structure
This is one of the high-scoring protein designs that will be turned into an actual protein binder for testing as an coronavirus-blocking agent. (Stomjoh via Foldit / UW Institute for Protein Design)

Who would have thought a video game could identify potential treatments for COVID-19? Researchers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Protein Design certainly thought so, and so far the game has produced 99 chances to win.

The game is a protein-folding puzzler called Foldit, which was created at UW’s Center for Game Science more than a decade ago and has attracted nearly more than 750,000 registered players since then.

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Xcraft probe lands in Xtronaut 2.0 board game

Xtronaut 2.0 playing cards
Xplore’s Xcraft space probe is featured on the Xtronaut 2.0 card at far right. (Xplore / Xtronaut Illustration)

Seattle-based Xplore isn’t due to launch its first Xcraft space probe until late 2021, but it’s already landed in an educational board game.

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Seattle office opens to work on rocket simulation

Thanks to ventures like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, the Seattle area has been raising its profile in the space industry. Now it’ll be the home of an entire space program: Kerbal Space Program 2, the next generation of a much-loved spaceflight simulation game.

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TakeFlight revs up simulator-based flight training

TakeFlight CEO Brandon Seltz
TakeFlight CEO Brandon Seltz takes the controls at a workstation equipped with software that guides users through the flight training process. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

The makers of software such as Microsoft Flight Simulator usually say their programs are meant for entertainment, not actual flight training — but there’s a venture called TakeFlight Interactive that’s using enhanced simulations to get future pilots up to speed more quickly.

Part of the enhancement is adding a virtual instructor to the mix.

“There’s so much latent power in a desktop simulation,” Brandon Seltz, founder and CEO of the Redmond, Wash.-based venture, told GeekWire. “But the instructional element of flight training has never been simulated.”

TakeFlight is taking on that challenge: The company’s developers have created an assortment of software modules for general, commercial and military flight training that includes a voice assistant to let you know when you should pull back on the controls or give the throttle a push.

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Microsoft Flight Simulator is back … for real!

RENTON, Wash. — Thanks to Microsoft’s hyper-realistic new version of Flight Simulator, I now know what it’s like to fly a Cessna 72SP Skyhawk airplane over my neighborhood … then crash it into the next street over.

And in connection with a daylong preview of the pre-alpha version of the simulation software, I got to fly a real Cessna almost as close to my real neighborhood. Thankfully, without crashing.

Both adventures were eye-openers for a guy like me — a guy who had never taken a flight lesson before, and whose only previous experience with flight simulation programs has been to crash (or nearly crash) virtual spaceships.

But even a newbie like me can appreciate the effort that went into the first full refresh for Microsoft’s classic Flight Simulator in 13 years.

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Minecraft helps revive lost monuments virtually

Mosul mosque
Islamic State forces blew up the Al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul, Iraq, as they withdrew from the city in 2017. (Photo Courtesy of History Blocks)

Can a video game reclaim centuries’ worth of lost cultural heritage in the Middle East? Microsoft’s Minecraft Education Edition is being used to do just that, in league with UNESCO and schools around the world.

History Blocks takes advantage of the educationally oriented Minecraft platform to build virtual versions of ancient monuments — starting with sites that were destroyed by the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, and by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The project was conceived and developed by Agencia Africa in Brazil, and put to its first test this February at Escola Bosque, a private school in São Paulo.

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AI plays on your team in Iconary online game

Iconary's AllenAI
The artificial intelligence agent behind the Iconary picture puzzle game, known as AllenAI, has been given a decidedly un-Terminator-like persona. (AI2 Graphic)

For decades, the games that put artificial intelligence to the test have been played human vs. machine – whether it’s checkerschessGopokerStarCraft or “Jeopardy.” Why isn’t there a game where the AI and the human are on the same side?

Now there is, and you can play, too.

Researchers at Seattle’s Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence are taking the wraps off Iconary, a Pictionary-type puzzle game in which an AI and human players take turns putting together pictures and guessing what phrases the pictures signify. Anyone can play the game with the AI agent, nicknamed AllenAI, by going to Iconary.AllenAI.org.

But it’s not just a game.

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5 tech twists from ‘Ready Player One’

Ready Player One scene
Wade Watts (played by Tye Sheridan) wears a haptic suit in “Ready Player One.” (Warner Bros. Photo)

“Ready Player One,” the Steven Spielberg movie that blends memes from the 1980s with a virtual-reality vision of 2045, is getting mostly positive reviews from film critics and filmgoers, and from box-office trackers as well.

Some see the film as a metaphor for the yin-yang, love-hate, fanboy-hacker relationship we’ve developed with our hyperconnected world. But for techies, one of the biggest allures of “Ready Player One” may well be the way it amps up today’s frontier technologies to reveal tomorrow’s everyday realities.

During a Cinerama preview organized by Madrona Ventures Group, managing director Matt McIlwain told the audience that the movie reflected the VC firm’s interest in intuitive “multisense” interfaces that are on track to transform the way we use high-tech applications.

If you want to go into the theater knowing absolutely nothing about the movie other than what you’ve seen in the teasers, put this story on pause and come back later. But if you’re ready for a quick rundown on five real-world gadgets and tech trends that are amped up for “Ready Player One,” read on.

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How an AI program bested the pros in poker

Poker match
Professional poker player Jason Les matches wits with Libratus, Carnegie Mellon University’s poker-playing AI program. (CMU via YouTube)

You got to know when to hold ’em, and know when to fold ’em — and when it comes to betting on human superiority in the game of poker, it may be time to fold ’em.

Carnegie Mellon University researchers laid their cards on the table in a study published this week in the journal Science, explaining how they designed their Libratus AI program to beat four professional poker players in no-limit Texas Hold’em.

It’s one more domino to fall in a series of human vs. machine gaming experiments — starting with checkers and chess, and moving on to the ancient board game known as Go.

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