So you’re strapped for cash, or otherwise unable to make the kind of contribution to the betterment of the world. There may be a way out for you. All you need is a computer that is occasionally running idle, and you could be well on the way to save the world!
Nearly everyone leaves their computer running idle every once in a while. If you could add up the power of all the computers running idle right now, can you imagine how powerful that would be? if only there were a way to harness that power; I could rule the world! I mean save the world. Save it.
Harnessing the power
So how can one go, like some sort of digital Sandman, infiltrating sleeping computers? It’s quite simple, all one needs to do to donate their computer’s idle time, is to download for Network Computing), which a software called BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure) is free for anyone to download and use.
When you install this software, it will simply run in the background consuming negligible resources. However when it detects that your computer is not in use — such as when you screensaver is running — it uses that idle time to process research data. If you only use your computer for light work, you can have it running all the time if you wish. In fact, it can even use your graphics card to process work faster.
While it is running, it will use your network connection to download a batch of data, and download the tools needed to process that data. In your computer’s idle time it will process the data it downloaded, and then when the work is done, it will send off the results to the people conducting the research. Even a small chunk of work, in some cases can take days or even weeks to complete. This system of dividing work among thousands of computers called “Grid Computing”.
Grid computing, or how to cheat on homework
If you’re wondering how the whole process of dividing work is accomplished, think of homework. Faced with ten math problems to solve as homework, you could either take a few hours and do them yourself, or you and your nine friends could decide to do a question each, and then copy the rest from each other. Of course, this won’t work for essays, and of course we’re sure you never did anything of the sort.
Well, turns out when lives are at stake and you have a couple of billion math problems instead of ten, it’s actually encouraged to finish your work faster rather than prove you can do it all yourself.
For example, a group of people trying to develop a better understanding of Malaria, and how to counter it, might find themselves burdened with more data than they could humanly go through. In fact the data is so much that even their computers might take too long to go through it all. So instead they divide it into small bite-sized chunks and send it across to thousands of computers across the world, and get their work done for free. Thus saving the time and money that can be spent doing more important work.
Join the grid
The kind of projects you can support are really diverse. They could range from something as mundane as finding the best solutions to chess games to something rather significant like finding the cure for cancer and AIDS; to the outright weird, like looking for alien life forms. In fact, the whole project started as SETI@Home (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence @ Home), a project that would scan the skies and send the data collected to thousands of computers across the world, which would then look for clues of intelligent life out there. Now it has become a platform for dozens of projects.
You can pick the projects you wish to commit to, and donate your computers time for, and the software will ensure that it downloads enough work to do to keep your computer busy for quite a while. You literally have to do nothing other than download this once and set up the projects you want to contribute to.
In fact install it on all your computers, now. The future depends on it.