In the past, these projects were only used for scientific endeavours - such as modelling the physical properties of proteins or scanning radio signals for signs of extra-terrestrial life. The numbers of people taking part is vast: 5.2 million people are registered with SETI@home.
A new set of volunteer computing projects is now emerging. They:
- Tackle non-scientific problems: Africa@home and the World Community Grid are both dedicated to international philanthropy
- Employ participants' brains as much as their computing power: The ESP Game and Herbaria@home get participants to do things which computers find difficult.
There must be plenty of other ways in which volunteer computing could be used for international development. Here are some ideas:
- Identifying trends in local markets to help people know when they will get the most favourable price
- Identifying trends in population dynamics and migration following conflict or disaster
- Identifying trends in the way diseases spread amongst different groups