Your underutilized PC could fill a global need

When IBM and representatives of the world’s leading science, education and philanthropic organizations launched the World Community Grid in November, even they might not have foreseen how big a need such a network could fill. But the grid, a global humanitarian effort that applies the unused computing

power of individual and business computers to help address the world’s most difficult health and societal problems, could yet take off.

With so many environmental and health issues in the news these days, including the effects of the tsunami in southeast Asia, there really is no limit to how much grid computing can be used to meet society’s needs, says Stan Litow, vice-president of corporate community relations for IBM Corp.

According to industry estimates, PCs are left off or unused at least 80 per cent of the time. By harnessing the unused computational power of these computers, the World Community Grid is able to assist research designed to help unlock genetic codes that underlie diseases like AIDS and HIV, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer, to improve forecasting of natural disasters and to support studies that can protect the world’s food and water supply.

Anyone can volunteer to donate the idle and unused time on a computer by downloading World Community Grid’s free software and registering at It works only with Windows for now but versions compatible with Macintosh and Linux will be added later.

So far, 50,000 PC users worldwide have donated their computer time since the initiative was launched in November. “”There’s a lot of work ahead of us, but we feel positive about it. There’s been a surge of early participation and we know it works,”” says Litow.

Litow says there has not been a single complaint from any of these users since the grid was launched, and in no way does it it interfere or harm their PCs. “”I would compare it to when people started shopping online. There were a lot of nervous people out there. Is it going to be secure? Will others have access to my information? As with anything that’s new, people have to experience and get comfortable with it,”” Litow says.

The first project of World Community Grid, the Human Proteome Folding Project, is sponsored by the Institute for Systems Biology, a non-profit research institute dedicated to the study and application of systems biology.

The project hopes to identify the proteins that make up the human proteome and, in doing so, better understand the causes and potential cures for diseases like malaria and tuberculosis.

By some estimates, there are more than 650 million PCs in use around the world, each a potential participant in the worldwide grid. The goal is to have one million participants by the end of 2005.

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