IBM and top scientific research organisations are joining forces in a humanitarian effort to tap the unused power of millions of computers and help solve complex social problems.
NEW YORK − IBM and top scientific research organisations are joining forces in a humanitarian effort to tap the unused power of millions of computers and help solve complex social problems.
The World Community Grid will seek to tap the vast underutilised power of computers belonging to individuals and businesses worldwide and channel it into selected medical and environmental research programs.
Volunteers will be asked to download a program to their computers that runs when the machine is idle and reaches out to request data to contribute to ongoing research projects.
Organisers say the Grid can help unlock genetic codes that underlie diseases like AIDS and HIV, Alzheimer's or cancer, improve forecasting of natural disasters and aid studies to protect the world's food and water supply.
The massive volunteer project will be unveiled on Tuesday by Sam Palmisano, CEO of International Business Machines Corp. (IBM), the world's largest computer company, along with United Nations officials, researchers from the Mayo Clinic, Oxford University and South Africa, and others.
"This is not just a project for techno-geeks," said Jonathan Eunice, an analyst with research firm Illuminata of Nashua, New Hampshire, who was briefed on the scope of the plan.
The project is designed to handle up to 10 million participants, or more, if demand is greater, IBM said. Details can be found at http://www.worldcommunitygrid.org/.
A Way to Contribute
"People really do want to contribute. Not everyone can contribute with dollars," said Linda Sanford, an IBM executive vice president. "This kind of project gives people a way to do just that. They can decide how much to participate."
What amounts to one of the high-tech world's broadest efforts to reach out to individuals is not without its risks.
In particular, the voluntary undertaking could run foul of computer administrators already struggling to keep a tight rein on network security policies in order to ward off viruses.
IBM is lending its name in part to ward off such challenges by seeking to garner top-level business backing for what until now has been largely a grassroots movement among hardcore techies to harness the latent power of machines to do good.
"We are looking for the individual, not the institution, per se, to contribute," Sanford said. "(Companies) will let their employees know when they can participate."
At an event at New York City's Rockefeller University, IBM's CEO will describe the initial research push and introduce some 16 members of the World Community Grid Advisory Board, which will evaluate proposals for future research.
Board member Sibusiso Sibisi of South Africa sees potential for agricultural climate research and pollution control to protect workers in his country's mines.
Sibisi, president of the government-backed Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), an organization of 2,000 public interest science researchers, says such research might never occur if his organization needed to pay for supercomputer-scale computing capacity.
"We will be looking at the sort of projects that one can parcel out into small components," Sibisi said.
The first research will be into Human Proteome Folding, an effort to identify the genetic structure of proteins that can cause diseases. There will be three to five research projects a year, Sanford said.
A 2003 study of smallpox set the stage for the World Community Grid. It is an evolution of the work of Grid.org http://www.grid.org/, which has acted as a clearing house for grid computing projects.
The project owes a debt to SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, which in the 1990s first popularized the notion that PC users could donate computer time for radio telescope astronomy data analysis via the Internet.