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How Many Computers Does It Take to Make Contact with E.T.s?


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How Many Computers Does It Take to Make Contact with E.T.s?


In the late 1990s, David P. Anderson, a University of California, Berkeley, computer scientist, realized that with the global Internet connecting millions of often-idle computers, the time had come for "distributed computing." This takes one big scientific computer problem and breaks it into little pieces, to be farmed out to many machines.

After Dr. Anderson wrote his software, he needed a problem for the machines to tackle. He chose SETI, the "search for extra-terrestrial intelligence." His Seti@Home would pore through the data from the Arecibo radio telescope looking for blips that might indicate intelligent life.

To make things interesting, there was added a scoring system, which awarded points to users for the computer time they donated, and allowed them to compete to see who could rack up the most. The credits are good only for bragging rights but would become a potent motivator. In fact, with finding E.T. such a long shot, the competition for points quickly became a main reason for taking part.

Dr. Anderson's real interest was distributed computing; the extraterrestrial angle was something of an attention-getting gimmick. But it was a spectacular success. Nearly a million downloaded the software that enabled their computers to analyze the Arecibo data. And it worked brilliantly.

And so other researchers -- biologists looking into proteins implicated in Alzheimer's, say, or physicists exploring fine points in relativity -- all began lining up at Dr. Anderson's Web site, http://boinc.berkeley.edu/, seeking help for their own projects.

Does anyone else out there run BOINC on their computer?


I currently have my computer running Einstein@Home to help Physicists detect gravitational waves.

You can also download software so that your computer can analyze proteins to help cure diseases, test models of climate change, download data from the Large Hadron Collider, or the old classic - searching for extraterrestrial radio signals. Those spare gigahertz can get a lot done when you're not using them to play computer games...

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I used to run Seti@home on my work PC's and servers until about 2 years ago.

You wanna compare processing speeds look at how fast a Pentium 4 chews on that data compared to a Sparc processor with Solaris. P4's are slow.

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