Every day the Internet offers more evidence to support the “wisdom of crowds” theory: a huge mass of ordinary people is often better at problem-solving than a handful of highly trained experts. But the latest example of crowdsourcing might someday help doctors wipe out malaria, which still kills over three million people worldwide every year.

Despite the past decades’ stunning advances in medical technology, pathologists still diagnose malaria pretty much the same way they did a century ago: peer at red blood cells through a microscope and look for signs indicating a malarial infection.

Researchers at UCLA have developed a free online game, BioGame, where players learn to do this, then win points for collecting healthy blood cells and “killing” infected ones with a syringe.

For the players, the game might be nothing more than a fun way to kill time. But malaria researchers derive a far greater benefit. The BioGame developers reported:

“[U]sing non-professional gamers we report diagnosis of malaria infected red-blood-cells with an accuracy that is within 1.25% of the diagnostic decisions made by a trained professional.”

The game is free, and playable on any computer or mobile device with Flash capability. And if you’re caught playing the game at work when you’re supposed to be working on something else, maybe your boss will let you off with this excuse: “I’m not procrastinating here; I’m saving lives.”

Photo by UCLA