Forget about cryptomining, here’s how to use your computer to do good for the world

By now you’ve probably heard of cryptocurrency and cryptomining, maybe because you too want to get some of that speculative digital asset money.

If it was 2012 we would be right next to you mining some bitcoin or ethereum overnight on our laptops because it was an interesting project and you got some good digital tokens worth a few cents. No harm, no fault.

We are a long way from those good days when cryptocurrencies were easy to mine on a smartphone, because the blockchains on which they were based had not yet matured sufficiently.

Now, mining a single digital token takes enormous effort, and while people are willing to pay a lot of money for these tokens, the chances that you are mining enough bitcoin or ethereum on your home computer to justify the expense. energy are practically non-existent.

However, many apps offer to let you mine for cryptocurrency while your computer is idle, leaving the prospect of free money in front of you for you to download their app.

Read the fine print, however – assuming the software is legitimate – and you’ll likely find that these companies take a slice of every fraction of a digital token you extract while your computer is idle. The goal is not to help you make money, the goal is to get thousands or tens of thousands of users to mine cryptocurrency for them.

So what should you do instead?

First of all, if you are not using your computer, the best thing to do is turn it off.

Modern operating systems on reasonably modern hardware boot in seconds, rather than the minute it might have taken five or ten years ago. There really is no reason to put your computer into sleep or hibernation mode.

But many of us still leave our computers idle overnight for one reason or another, and you might be tempted to use that idle time for something productive.

Instead of mining cryptocurrency, however, there are plenty of ways to use that idle computer time for a good cause, rather than setting the planet on fire to help venture capitalists who are entered the ground floor of Bitcoin to become even more obscenely wealthy than them. already are.

Network cable

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

What is distributed computing and how does it work?

The blockchain technology behind cryptocurrencies and NFTs operates on a distributed network, which means that copies of a specific blockchain exist on multiple systems connected by a network, and transactions on the blockchain are only added if a consensus is reached. of these systems agrees to add it.

It doesn’t really matter what all this means, but distributed computing works the same way that a program or a process within a program is. calculated on multiple systems connected by a network.

So if you were to use distributed computing to run Google Chrome, for example, different computers on the network would process different pieces of code, the results of which would be collected by one of the computers on the network that was responsible for managing everything and displaying the browser on one. screen.

On the bright side, you might finally have enough RAM to run Chrome, but the downside is that distributed computing isn’t a very efficient way to run a web browser. What is that can doing it very efficiently, however, is complex data processing and modeling, that is, the kind of work normally done on supercomputers.

Programs on supercomputers are generally very basic, all things considered, but what they do is computationally very expensive. If you need to model a weather forecast for the next week, you usually have to factor in hundreds or even thousands of variables.

If each variable can have ten values, modeling all potential weather forecasts would take 10 ^ 100 or 10 ^ 1000 calculations for each step in the model. It’s the kind of thing that can shut down a normal computer and then smash it to dust over the next century as it tries to process every computation one by one for years.

But what if you give 1,000 computers a subsection of this model to calculate over a network, and then they send the results back to a computer that collects the data and compiles it into usable predictions? Well, it wouldn’t take that long. It’s the power of distributed computing, and its use in scientific and medical research has been growing for nearly two decades now.

The Milky Way is seen above a radio telescope.

(Image credit: Haitong Yu / Getty Images)

The BOINC platform

the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Networked Computing (BOINC) started out as a platform for finding aliens. It was built at the University of California at Berkeley to enable the SETI @ home program, which allowed volunteers to donate idle computer time to help process radio signals from space to look for possible signs of alien life.

The SETI @ home project itself is in “hibernation” for now while researchers perform “back-end data analysis,” but the distributed computing platform they built to run the SETI @ project home is now widely used by universities and research institutes for other treatments. – intensive projects (just like the @home convention, as you will see soon).

These include modeling the protein fold to learn more about diseases like Covid-19, projects that study climate change and astronomical phenomena, and important areas of research in mathematics.

Although BOINC is safe to use, it is an open platform, so anyone can use it for their project without any kind of quality review. This means that some projects are more worthy of your downtime than others.

The BOINC site has a good list of questions ask before you start contributing to a project, including who is sponsoring it, whether its objectives are clearly described and productive use of your inactive computer time, and whether the project has previously published results in peer-reviewed scientific journals (thus showing that he is really serious about the research he is conducting).

The BOINC website contains a list of projects which “are known to us at BOINC, and we believe their descriptions are accurate”. While this isn’t a full-fledged endorsement of the projects on the list, it’s still a place to start.

We have selected some of the most outstanding projects which are sponsored by researchers from reputable universities and institutions, and which are renowned for their quality research.

  • Einstein @ home: searches for hard-to-detect pulsar signals using LIGO, the Arecibo radio telescope, and Fermi gamma-ray satellite data.
  • LHC @ home: performs particle and accelerator physics simulations to improve the work of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.
  • Milky Way @ home: works to create a three-dimensional model of the Milky Way with a high level of precision using data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.
  • MLC @ Home: Investigates complex machine learning models, in particular neural networks, to better understand how they work in order to advance the real-world security of technology powered by machine learning systems.
  • Rosetta @ home: studies protein folding structures to better understand a variety of diseases and research potential therapies.

Projects that do not work on BOINC

In the past, BOINC has come under criticism that it consumes a lot of processing power while in use, which can cause the CPU fans to run loudly, which can be a problem for some when they try. of sleeping.

While we haven’t experienced this ourselves, this review exists, so if you’re looking for a non-BOINC distributed IT project that you want to volunteer for, we’ve included a few more options below.

  • Folding @ home: After studying new protein structures in SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, the project has now moved on to studying potential drugs that target these structures. Uses its own software and lets you control when and how much processing power is volunteered.
  • Stardust @ home: Analyze NASA’s Stardust mission collection grid to capture comet particles from Comet Wild 2.
  • DreamLab: you can also use yourself Android Where ios device to help medical research on several types of cancer, although for the moment the application is strictly devoted to Covid-19 research.
  • Electric sheep: While not beneficial in the same sense as medical or scientific research, it is a distributed platform to generate evolutionary fractal art and turn those visualizations into an awesome screensaver. No, it’s not about curing cancer, but right now we can all benefit from something cool and spellbinding to remind us of the ongoing pandemic.

This article is part of TechToSee Technical resolutions series, an explosion of motivating incentives showing you how to power up your New Year with technology. From Sunday December 26 to Sunday January 2, our series will also reveal how we aim to improve the lives of our gadgets in 2022. So whether you’re looking to become an advanced Chromebook user, beat your take-out obsession with a new air fryer. or use a smartwatch to propel yourself to new heights of fitness, we’ll show you how to have a great New Year. And when things inevitably go wrong, you can always blame the gadgets.

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