If there’s one thing I find exceptionally rewarding, it’s feeling like I did something good while having actually done nothing at all. This is because I am not, as is commonly stated, a bad guy. I am, like many other people in the world, mostly just a lazy guy.
It’s not that I don’t want to help make the world a better place. I do! But the prospect of it just reeks of scads of effort, coupled with the very real possibility of humiliating failure. After all, lots of people more well equipped than I have spent entire lifetimes striving to make the world a more decent place to live for all of humanity. You’ll have to pardon my cynicism when I say that the results of all that strenuous labor have, to date, been mixed at best.
But thanks to the magic of the Internet (and a group of devoted, savvy volunteers and researchers at universities across the nation, I guess) even the very lazy can hop on the good deeds bandwagon. By downloading a simple program that runs while your computer is idle, you, (or, technically speaking, your computer) can help cure cancer. And HIV. And any number of dire ailments that pretty much anyone can agree should be cured. And you won’t even have to lift a finger.
Downloading BOINC will allow you to become a part of Docking@Home, a collaborative project between UC Berkeley, The University of Delaware and The Scripps Research Institute. These institutions are all trying to find new drugs to effectively treat diseases like breast cancer, HIV, and Parkinson’s, and one of the first steps in developing new drugs is making virtual mashup molecules and seeing which ones may be worth investigating further. The problem is, there are a whole lot of different combinations of molecules (which is to say, an infinite number), and virtual testing for these potential cures requires truly staggering gobs of processing power.
That’s where you come in.
By downloading and installing BOINC, a program created by researchers at UC Berkeley, you can contribute a little bit of your computers processing power to these virtual tests. While your computer sits idle – when you’re making dinner, watering the garden, or having a beer with friends – BOINC will wake up and donate the processing power that your computer isn’t using to the nitty gritty work of assembling and testing virtual molecules. Outsourcing the processing to the BOINC cloud lightens the burden on researchers and the cost of doing testing, and lets you feel dandy about the part you’re playing in the latest medical research.
Docking@Home is by no means the first project to use cloudsourcing to advance scientific research. Users around the world can already lend a hand to health research via the World Community Grid. You can provide another set of digital ears to SETI’s quest for life among the stars, or build a microphone to assist Cornell University in tracking North American bird populations. You can go outside and start taking notes for The Big Book of All Life, Everywhere.
Or you can sign up for Docking@Home and just let your computer do what it was meant to do – process information. But instead of processing expense reports and typing up letters to the editor, your PC can get up to the hard work it was envisioned for – doing lightning fast calculations and providing science with a new tool to do good in the world. It’s a noble and amazing thing, your humble desktop. Get involved and let it do something great.
And if that’s not impetus enough for you, think of it this way. If you sign up for Docking@Home now, then five, ten, fifteen years from now, when the news breaks that we’ve finally beaten breast cancer or found a way to keep HIV from reproducing itself, you get to go to your favorite bar and say with a straight face “Yeah, I worked on that project.”
And if that doesn’t get someone to buy you a beer, then nothing will.