Giving back on the network

Dandelion NetworkOf course by now you’ve heard that the world is getting smaller, with the Internet as the centerpiece for that movement. Increasingly we find ourselves networked with our neighbors, and even the word “neighbors” has started to mean someone in another country on another continent . . . instead of someone who lives right next door to you.

With any infrastructure that gets put in place to network people, there is always extra capacity – the network seldom has to perform at peak levels to accomplish all the networking it needs to get done. An interesting idea that has been around for some time is using that extra capacity for something else while people aren’t actively using it.

Years ago I had my work computer set up so that when I wasn’t using it (meetings with the Bobs), it was searching for extraterrestrial life. Through the program SETI@home (SETI is a government program that stands for “Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence“) I had a screensaver that would kick in and start analyzing packets from the radio telescopes of the world for patterns that might indicate a meaningful signal from another planet. SETI would send the packets down to my computer, my computer would crunch them, and then send SETI the results.

Recently I saw that another group has picked up on this and started to use idle computer time to fight AIDS. So what is your computer doing when you aren’t using it? I hope something, no one likes a lazy computer.

Extending this idea to other networks, I have also heard that certain urban areas, Austin for one, envision an entire infrastructure of smart electric cars such that when your car is plugged in and not driving around, it is acting as a piece of a massive battery for the city such that excess power can be stored away in your car and accessed in times of higher demand.

Photo Credit: Michael Heiss

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