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What is the GIVE Challenge?

This article is the second of a series in which I explain what my research is about in (I hope) a simple and straightforward manner. For more details, feel free to check the Research section.

The GIVE Challenge is a competition started in the University of Saarland, created to collect data about human behavior. Since most of my research is based on that data, it's a good moment to explain what is it about.

We all know GPS by now - whenever we go by car somewhere new, we just type the direction and the GPS guides us. But have you ever thought about how hard it is to give instructions, like your GPS does? For instance, if we are in a roundabout and I say "take the third street to your right", does that mean I have to count all streets, or should I ignore wrong ways? And how much time do you need to react to my directions? These are important question, because they reveal a bit more about how humans act and think.

If we want answers, we need to collect data (reaction times, distance to other cars, misunderstandings, etc), and that data is very difficult to get. For our example, you would have to drive while wearing special glasses, a military GPS, and keep track of all the cars and pedestrians around you. So you might wonder, couldn't we make something simpler, but still useful? My adviser and other researchers asked themselves this exact same question in 2007, and that is how the GIVE Challenge was born.

In GIVE, a person sits in front of a computer, and they play a game. The game is pretty easy - all the person has to do is walk around a virtual house and press some buttons in a certain order. Just like a GPS, they receive instructions telling them where to go and what to do.

In the first variant of the GIVE Challenge, the instructions are given by a person using a computer in a different room. We then record all the information about how the player reacts to the instructions: if the instruction says "turn right", how much does the player turn? Do they just turn, or do they walk too? And how long does it take them? By recording every single movement of the player inside this game, we can answer questions like that.

There's also a second variant: we can write a program that guides the person inside the game, and see how good (or how bad) its instructions are. While a common GPS only cares about streets, our programs have a harder time: humans are not limited to just following streets like cars do, so the instructions are more complex. GIVE is a good way of testing how smart our computers are, and that's why we've been using it for many years now.

We've so far recorded over 340 hours of human movements, divided in 2500 games. Believe it or not this is not too much data, but it's a good start. We have extracted several interesting results from this data, some of which I talk about in future articles.