This past weekend, I caught a snippet of a rebroadcast of this NPR story about Jane McGonigal and the thesis of her recent book. In short, she points out that as a species we have spent literally millions of person-years playing World of Warcraft, an online game that involves teamwork and puzzle-solving (as well as all the usual fun silliness of videogames). Her point is that in the game environment, people have demonstrated great creativity as well as a willingness to keep coming back, over and over, to tackle challenging problems (in part because there is recognition by the players that problems are pitched at a level that is tricky but not insurmountable). She wants to harness this kind of intellectual output for good, rather than just have it as a social (or antisocial) outlet. She's not the first person to have this sort of idea, of course (see, e.g., Ender's Game, or the Timothy Zahn short story "The Challenge"), but the WoW numbers are truly eye-popping.
It would be great if there were certain scientific problems to which this could be applied. The overall concept seems easiest to adapt to logistics (e.g., coming up with clever ways of routing shipping containers or disaster relief supplies), since that's a puzzle-solving subdiscipline where the basic problems are at least accessible to lay-people. Trying this with meaty scientific challenges would be much more difficult, unless those challenges could be translated effectively into problems that don't require years and years of foreknowledge. Hmm. Still very thought-provoking.