Improbable Island Message of the Day (MoTD)

One hundred and fifty years!
Staff2010-08-18 21:17:15 [Permalink]
Improbable Island's World Community Grid team has just passed ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY YEARS of computing time! Suck it FarmVille, we're curing cancer!

A few words about World Community Grid, from a previous MotD:

There's a lot of stuff wrong with the world. The fact that you're not dying of malnutrition right now puts you in a four-out-of-ten minority. Oil's getting more expensive, and as the population increases exponentially we're gonna be in trouble before too long. Cancer, Muscular Dystrophy, West Nile virus, Yellow Fever, Hepatitis C and AIDS all conspire to make their presence felt by the not-so-subtle means of killing our friends and family members.

There is something we can do about all this doom and gloom.

There's a lot of info here, so I'll just tell you how the first problem can be solved. Let's start with 58% of the world's mortality rate being tied in with malnutrition. The whole world hunger thing.

Rice is the main staple food of more than half the world's population. So, if we make rice better, more nutritious, easier to grow and cheaper, that should help things out at least a bit. We can make better decisions about what strains of rice to breed with each other to create our Super Awesome Rice if we determine the structure of the various different rice proteins.

Problem is, it's horrendously expensive to do that sort of thing. You need a supercomputer. And there are thousands of distinct proteins in rice. A bunch of clever bods at the University of Washington have sorted out some good software to do it, but we still need a lot of hardware, with massive amounts of computational horsepower.

There's an amazingly powerful supercomputer called the IBM RoadRunner - many hundreds of thousands of times more powerful than the computer you're using right now. RoadRunner would probably do the job, but right now it's busy trying to compute exactly how daft an idea it was to engage Russia in a nuclear dick-waving contest and then leave loads of rickety old warheads lying around all over the place.

(No, seriously - that's what it was built for. If you could call Douglas Adams on the Phone of the Dead and tell him that, I don't think he'd believe you.)

RoadRunner will probably be too busy figuring out an answer to this question to help us for quite a while, so we've gotta take matters into our own hands.

Using a little program called BOINC - and yes, I do find the name wonderfully amusing - we can make a supercomputer ourselves, out of our own machines all connected together. The idea is that whenever your CPU isn't being used for anything, the BOINC client will use it to make Super Awesome Rice. And dengue drugs. And a cure for AIDS. And cancer. And the next generation of ultra-efficient (IE "actually worth the energy taken to make them") solar panels.

So far, our little supercomputer has done a hundred and fifty years' worth of humanitarian research. Pretty soon we'll be working on some Rather Awesome In-Game Incentives for our players who decide to become part of the supercomputer. To join our distributed computing team, head into Cobblestone Cottage, located in Common Ground - pretty soon we'll be awarding players with a new currency based on how much they've contributed to the project.

Go, little supercomputer! You can do it!
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