“The Truth” is Out There — Computer Users Worldwide Unite to Find Signs of Intelligent Life in Space
FRAMINGHAM, MA – JUNE 30, 2000 – Imagine a supercomputer that in just one year could analyze data that would normally take 100,000 years to compute.
In an upcoming report, Computerworld details how SETI@home, a project being driven by the nonprofit SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., uses the Internet to organize a network of nearly 2 million volunteer computer users into a virtual parallel computer that sifts through the cryptic background
noise of space in search of intelligence.
The SETI@home network analyzes radio signals picked up by the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico — the same telescope that was featured in the 1997 movie Contact. By using an imaginative application of distributed computing that draws power from as many of the world's computers as possible via the Internet, the SETI@home network is able to analyze vastly more data than it could using almost any other technology — at a tiny fraction of the cost it would otherwise pay.
According to the Computerworld report, 90 percent of most computers' processing power goes unused. The SETI@home software taps into this power by running its calculations while the computer is unused, without interfering with the user's normal computing tasks.
Computerworld reports that The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) also has helped spur a change in thinking about the broad business potential for parallel Internet computing. Proponents say that linking computers through the Internet could enable long term, computation-intensive tasks in aerodynamics, pharmacology, geophysics, biotechnology and manufacturing that previously were not feasible to conduct.
Potential users include energy companies that need to do seismic or geographic analyses before they start drilling for oil or digging for coal, manufacturers that do structural analysis or fluid dynamics prior to transforming computer-aided designs into real equipment and engineering firms that stress test everything from bridges to aircraft.
One company, ProcessTree Network in Madison, Ala., plans to pay computer users to participate in its parallel Internet computing network. Last January, in what was touted as the first commercial venture in the field of parallel Internet computing, ProcessTree set up a Web site soliciting volunteer computer owners.
However, as the Computerworld report reveals, several issues have to be addressed before parallel Internet computing can be commercially viable. The biggest hurdle is information security. For instance, an oil exploration company considering the mineral rights to a piece of land might gain efficiency by divvying up the analysis of the geologic data across the Internet. However, there is a risk that competitors could participate in the network and access the same the data. It might also be possible for would-be saboteurs to break into the network and ruin a project for competitive or malicious reasons.
Computerworld found some organizations on the verge of solving those problems, possibly setting the stage to make use of the massive computing potential of the Internet and all the devices that connect to it.
"It is always exciting to see the vast possibilities for Internet technology," said Maryfran Johnson, editor-in-chief of Computerworld. "As we've discovered with parallel Internet computing, computing power is not just limited to a single company or workgroup, but it also can be shared and enhanced by users around the world."
The Computerworld report will be on news stands next week in the July 3 issue and online at www.computerworld.com.
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