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Also on ScienCentral News

Keeping Secrets - While computers and the Internet have made many things easier, one area made more complex by computers is security. (6/28/00)

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Elsewhere on the web

Fight AIDS at Home to generate and test millions of candidate drug compounds against detailed models of evolving AIDS viruses.

Folding@Home run by Stanford University to study how proteins self-assemble.

Compute Against Cancer also tackles cancer research problems.

Saving Lives with P2P -- article

 


There’s a new way to use the idle time on your personal computer to test drugs and possibly save lives.

As this ScienCentral News video report shows, PC owners can help scientists fight cancer with the help of their unused computer power.


"PC Philanthropy"

Is your PC doing all it could be to cure cancer, Parkinsons disease or AIDS? Opportunities now abound to participate in PC philanthropy simply by installing specialized software that will keep your computer busy without slowing you down. "Peer-to-Peer" networking combines the spare resources, usually processing cycles, of individual computers via the Internet to solve huge number-crunching problems at supercomputer speeds.

The United Devices cancer research program is using the spare processing power of thousands of home PC’s to search for new drugs to treat leukemia and other cancers. According to Intel, the program’s sponsor, its vision is to host many other potentially lifesaving research projects using peer-to-peer networks.

Seti@Home is probably the best-known peer-to-peer or "distributed computing" project. Three million volunteers have now downloaded the project’s screensavers that process radiotelescope data and search for signals from intelligent extraterrestrials.

With that much computational power available from these virtual volunteers, has anybody figured out how to harness this valuable resource for huge profits? According to Richard Koman, editor of openp2p.com, the answer is not yet. "Nobody’s saying, ’help us crunch data for the Bank of America or some other big corporate client," Koman says. "But I am sure they would like to get there."

"There are attempts to compensate people for donating their cycles but the most popular projects are things people believe in, for example Seti@Home, the ones that research cancer, and AIDS," Koman says. Compensation is usually in the form of a chance to win prizes or "cyberdollars," rather than cash. "It would be hard to get paid enough to lend your machine to something you’re just doing for the money," says Koman. "It’s pretty hard to put a number on how much your spare cycles are worth."

One of the longest-running distributed computing projects, GIMPS, the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search, to discover new world-record-sized prime numbers, tells participants they might win a big cash prize offered for discovering a 10-million digit prime. In fact, one eager user was arrested after installing the program not on his home computer, but on his employer’s network.

But according to Koman, most peer-to-peer volunteers are do-gooders. "It’s one part of the economy that’s really based on altruism," he says. "They think, if it’s not going to slow me down, and it’s something they feel good about and if I add my little bit of processing power to these other three million people, maybe we can really do something."



by Joyce Gramza


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