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Donate idle cpu capacity for medical research

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      04.07.2010 00:37
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      Still to do: AIDS, clean energy 2, Dengue drugs 2, cancer 2x2, dystophy 2, proteome 2...

      World community grid is a not for profit organisation which conducts research into "fields benefiting humanity" such as looking for a cure for AIDS and assessing climate change statistics.

      What studies should be carried out is open to suggestions from the public but the organisation has the final say and there is no vote. The results are published openly so any company or university is free to find practical applications for them.

      In order to conduct its research WCG needs a huge amount of computing power and for this it relies heavily on individuals donating their idle CPU capacity.

      To make a donation you simply register with the site, select which projects you want to support (default is all) and then download a small application which runs in the background whenever your computer is on.

      I am at this moment unfolding the human proteome and curing AIDS, earlier on I was curing muscular dystrophy and childhood leukaemia.

      The unobtrusive piece of software does everything and there is no need to ever log into the site or open and look at the programme if you don't want to. Of course you can pause or remove it at anytime.

      WCG doesn't slow down your machine as it only uses spare CPU capacity, takes up very little memory and is start delayed so it isn't trying to load at the same time as everything else. By default WCG won't ever use more than 10% of your processor and 10 GB disk space and won't run whilst on batteries but these preferences can be adjusted if you so wish. The only monetary cost to the donator is the extra electricity it takes to run one more application at a time.

      Per default WCG does work at any time and mutely connects to the internet at anytime to upload results or download new work. This might be a problem for people using AOL but it is easy to change the settings so it will automatically try connect at specified times when you are likely to be online already.

      I have been helping WCG for about six months now and have never experienced any problems despite having adjusted the settings to allow it to use 60% of the processor. It typically takes my computer five hours to complete a task and I can run two tasks at once but as everything is handled autonomously I would not even know this if I hadn't specifically looked it up.

      Overall I think WCG is a fantastic idea and it certainly works seamlessly from the point of view of the donator; however there are a few things I think they could do better:

      Firstly I'm not sure about how projects are selected; what is a proteome and how can we be sure unfolding it is as useful as curing AIDS twice as fast?

      All else being equal I would rather contribute to human progress and research everything imaginable, but since WCG is not forced to be practical by economic laws, how can we be sure that some of their studies accomplish anything more than fast tracking some students PH. Ds?

      Ironically perhaps I would trust them more if they were a subsidiary of a biotech company earning a manufacturing profit; I would certainly still have downloaded the software.

      Also WCG aren't as efficient as they could be, my computer was sent away for repairs for a few days so two projects missed their deadline. Rather than automatically reallocating the work WCG continued running both of them to completion and then noticed that the results could not be used.

      Another conduit for WCG to disillusion its loyal followers is their points system which is designed to let you compare your contribution against other peoples. Unfortunately virtually all participants only receive about 95% of the maximum points available for each piece of work because their computer makes some errors. This doesn't mean participation is futile, WCG has made significant headway, but for someone not used to the ins and outs of this type of research being told that they routinely return inaccurate information can only be demoralising, some people might even be tricked into thinking they are a net burden.

      None of these criticisms take away from the fact that WTG and its members have made meaningful progress (especially in cancer research) and even if data has to be checked 6 times over and even if some projects turn out to be a complete waste of time it is clear that at the end of the day WCG can only enhance human understanding and advancement.

      A tiny donation of electricity might reap incredible returns. If AIDS or cancer is cured even just one month earlier that will save many more lives than a significant donation to any charity.

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