Spare computer power is to be used to solve the world's scientific problems in a plan announced by IBM.
The proposed World Community Grid was developed with the National Institutes of Health, the World Health Organisation, the United Nations and Oxford University to allow scientific researchers to tap the power of idle PCs to solve problems that usually require the use of supercomputers.
IBM is hoping that the scheme will help crack the genetic structure of diseases like Aids and cancer, as well as modelling and forecasting natural disasters.
"World Community Grid represents a new model for philanthropic giving," said Linda Sanford, IBM senior vice president and chairman of World Community Grid's advisory board.
"IBM is involved because we are committed to bringing the best technologies forward to address critical societal and health issues.
"World Community Grid demonstrates that government, business and society can be the direct beneficiary of innovation if we are willing to rethink the way innovation and science both develop and prosper."
Users wishing to take part can download the software from www.worldcommunitygrid.org, which communicates with the grid when the user's computer is idle. Researchers wishing to take advantage of the grid must agree to keep their research and software tools in the public domain.
This approach was first tried in 1999 with the famous [email protected] project, where computer users downloaded a screensaver and used spare computing time to analyse signals from outer space in the search for intelligent life.
IBM has donated the hardware, software and technical services to build the infrastructure for the grid and will provide hosting, maintenance and support.
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