Which distributed computing project will actually help mankind?

Doctor Q

Original poster
Staff member
Sep 19, 2002
Los Angeles
My home computer has lots of spare cycles, overnight or while I am at work. It's fun to participate in SETI@home and I've tried Stanford's Folding@home too. They are certainly better than flying toasters. But I have a serious question.

I would like to know which distributing computing projects (in my case, for Mac OS X) have the most potential to make a useful difference in the world.

Maybe Berkeley's signal analysis will find E.T., who will tell us how to prevent war or repair the ozone layer. Maybe Stanford's protein research (Folding@home and Genome@home) will lead to a cure for cancer. The purpose of FightAIDSatHome is self explanatory. And maybe there's some reason to care that distributed.net's search for an optimal golomb ruler might lead to advances in X-ray crystallography.

There are lists of distributed computing projects such as the Yahoo Home > Science > Computer Science > Distributed Computing > Projects page. Where are other such lists? Does anyone review these projects or make relative judgments about them?

Who has advice or opinions on how to decide which projects have the most merit?


macrumors 6502
Sep 8, 2002
well back when seti was new, i let it hog my system -- it was novel. Now, since the aids at home project only runs on systems running windoze i fold. aliens would be cool to find, but id much rather see treatments for cancer, alzheimers, or one of a large number of other illnesses.


macrumors 68000
Apr 16, 2002
I think if you look at the broader implications of each you can get a better picture.

SETI is looking for signs of intelligence, namely communication signals. The project looks for alien communication signals with human equipment. If they do happen to find some objective proof, it may/may not be of consequence.

Folding is determining how polypeptide chains (proteins) assemble. The data obtained from this project can go for any of the areas that apply to proteins in the human body. People play the disease card, but this isn't the only application of this project.

But who's to say that intelligent aliens communicate like we do? I think SETI's long-term goal (the unknown factor) is a lot more broad then some other distributed projects.

Take for example RC5. They were looking for a 64-bit key to crack an encryption code. They had had a finite # of possibilities (albeit large) and now the project is over. Folding is looking at protein structures that are tangible and have a structure when they start and a structure when they finish. SETI is looking for patterns or abnormalities in background noise.

RC5 is something that was made by humans and can be solved because we knew it had an end. Folding's goals like solving disease are open-ended. SETI's goals for extra-terrestrial intelligence are open-ended.

I tend to look at the probabilities of each projects goals to assess their worth. SETI is just far-fetched IMO. Folding has a better chance of happening IMO. Any encryption algorithm can be broken, so that's 100%.

There's also the altivec factor. Some projects have it, some don't. This makes macs more valuble in the project. RC5, yes. Folding, no. SETI, yes (AFAIK).

As far as the relative mankind position, that's up to you.


macrumors 68000
Dec 30, 2001
The SimCity Deli
Just a thought:

Aliens could be already here -- if only biologists will allow beta hairpins to congregate in the trillions and form a hive complex...
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