Seti@Home was a wonderful idea

Seti@Home was a wonderful idea – a chance for thousands – maybe millions – of people to participate in the search for alien intelligence. What a cause to fire the imagination! THe principle was simple too. Thousands of thousands of computers can work their way through computer files much much faster than one really large one – hence members of the public take on the job of processing odds and ends of data in their computer down-times.

Fight AIDS @ Home would initially look like a similarly wonderful idea. Using the same basic concept as Seti@Home, almost infinite amounts of different drug designs can be tested over hundreds or thousands of computers. Except there is one crucial difference. This one isn’t done for the good of humanity – it’s done for the good of Entropia. They even go so far as to state:

Entropia is a for-profit corporation. In our view, profit is as necessary as oxygen for longevity; while oxygen is essential for life, it is not the purpose of living. Likewise, Entropia’s Internet computing service represents “profit with a purpose.” Some of the time, Entropia’s software will be running commercial tasks on your computer.

A few comments:

  • Many Universities undertake public domain research for free (hence profit is NOT essential for the life of research).
  • Many people would rather the information on how to deal with HIV and AIDS was public domain (cheap generic drugs instead of exorbitant branded ones) – particularly as the parts of the world most affected by HIV are also the poorest parts.
  • And particularly, many people I believe would be affronted by the possibility that the software itself might start to run commercial tasks simply to make money in between bits of AIDS research.

This is a tremendously powerful model for enhancing research, and I suspect one we will see a great deal more of over the next few years. You could contribute to the curing of huge social ills simply by allowing people to invisibly use your computer when you are not. But let us wait until the model is taken up by the not-for-profit institutions – because we should all contribute to a better world, but there’s no reason to make some multi-national even more absurdly rich in the process.