Selected one of Popular Sciences 50 Best of the Web.
Get Email Updates
Write to us and we will send you an email when a new feature appears on the site.
Lifesaver Screensaver (video)
May 24, 2001
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)
Cell Phone Viruses - The recent rash of email viruses has scientists and engineers bracing for the next inevitable epidemic. (6/27/00)
Look Ma, No Mouse - How much more productive would you be if you could have meaningful conversations with your computer? (8/8/00)
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
Theres 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.
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 PCs to search for new drugs to treat leukemia and other cancers. According to Intel, the programs 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 projects 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. "Nobodys 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 youre just doing for the money," says Koman. "Its 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 employers network.
But according to Koman, most peer-to-peer volunteers are do-gooders. "Its one part of the economy thats really based on altruism," he says. "They think, if its not going to slow me down, and its 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."