ARMY TO RECRUIT LEGION OF PCS TO FIGHT SMALLPOX



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Last Updated

05 Feb 2003

Source: Wall Street Journal, February 5, 2003

HEALTH

Army to Recruit Legion Of PCs to Fight Smallpox

By WILLIAM M. BULKELEY, Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Uncle Sam wants you -- to volunteer your computer's desktop in the fight against bioterrorism.

In a medical application of a research technique called "grid computing," the Army plans to enlist hundreds of thousands of personal computers to identify chemical molecules with the potential to block the smallpox virus.

Under the plan, devised for Army medical researchers by a small Texas company, unused capacity on volunteered PCs will be connected in a grid planners say will be 30 times faster at peak power than the speediest supercomputer.

The grid, which will be announced Wednesday, will sift through billions of molecules to find about 200 with the potential to fight smallpox.

The company, United Devices Inc. of Austin, is working with International Business Machines Corp., which is supplying central computers that will be used in the network. Closely held United Devices has enlisted as many as two million volunteers for other Internet-based projects. The company's software breaks up big, complicated programs into little pieces that can be processed on individual PCs.

Volunteers can go to the Web site www.grid.org to download a small piece of software that works somewhat like a screen saver, activating only when the computer isn't being used. As soon as someone touches a key, the grid program shuts down, leaving all the resources of the computer for its user.

One advantage to the Army is cost. Volunteers don't get compensated with anything except the satisfaction of knowing they may help fight smallpox. Hiring a supercomputer to do the job would cost in the tens of millions of dollars, United Devices says.

United Devices grew out of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence project, which has enlisted millions of PCs in 220 countries to analyze radio waves from space in a search for a pattern that might indicate efforts to communicate from other galaxies. No luck so far. Volunteer grids have been used previously to analyze anthrax and cancer cells.