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Distributed Computing: Google Starts Folding!

By Talez in News
Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 04:41:22 AM EST
Tags: Internet (all tags)

Google recently launched a new beta of its famous Google Toolbar to a few thousand randomly selected beta testers which featured a new button, Google Compute. Upon clicking this new button I was presented with a dialog box asking me if I wanted to start folding (the act of simulating protein folding) for Folding@home, a distributed computing project which simulates folding proteins to discover things like how diseases work.

Of course I said yes!

And Folding@home is just the beginning according the Google Compute FAQ. Google have expressed an interest in providing Google Compute for the use of other important projects.

While these projects have operated in the past, Google getting involved will hopefully take these projects into the mainstream and provide millions or even billions more CPU hours to assist in these important projects.

However, Google's involvement may not be the silver bullet that will fix distributed computing's mainstream popularity. If this strategy is to work, Google needs to put more of its weight behind getting its toolbar out into the public. This may include something more prominent that a "Google Toolbar" link on the front page.

For those people already running Folding@home but still curious, you cannot use your already in place ID. Google Compute will assign you a random ID in the form of Googlexxxxxxxxxxxxx. They are considering a new version of the toolbar that will support custom UIDs if there's enough demand for it.

Also, for those wondering what it looks like, here is a screenshot of my machine running Google Compute and here is my stats page for my toolbar.

If you like the sound of Google Compute and don't have the beta toolbar, never fear! If you email Google Compute support they will tell you how to enable the beta toolbar.

Despite its fallbacks, Google's one-click attitude to distributed computing will make it faster and easier than ever for lazy people like me and will raise the awareness of important distributed computing projects for people like my grandma.


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Would You Google Compute?
o Yes 12%
o Yes if it wasn't just for IE 5+ 19%
o Yes if it wasn't just for Windows 44%
o No 23%

Votes: 204
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Google
o Google Toolbar
o Folding@ho me
o Google Compute FAQ
o expressed an interest
o here
o here [2]
o email Google Compute support
o Also by Talez

Display: Sort:
Distributed Computing: Google Starts Folding! | 49 comments (42 topical, 7 editorial, 0 hidden)
Intellectual Property Rights (4.00 / 7) (#6)
by r00t on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 01:10:02 AM EST

Will the information collected be put into public domain?

I think it should be. Afterall, this wouldn't be possible without public donating their spare CPU cycles. I for one will not support any distributed computer project if the information is kept confidential.

-It's not so much what you have to learn if you accept weird theories, it's what you have to unlearn. - Isaac Asimov

Well (none / 0) (#8)
by Mysidia on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 02:14:58 AM EST

It looks like they're publishing at least some of their findings (so far) ref'd by results.

Nothing I see indicates public domain release, but at least they're making something available on their website.


[ Parent ]
...then why should I help them? (3.00 / 2) (#12)
by evilpenguin on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 04:28:47 AM EST

OK, since the dnet RC5 project was over, I've been looking for OGRs, which seems "boring" in comparison. Protien folding sounds interesting. I'd like to do that.

But there's no way in hell I'm contributing even one cycle to it if it's not in the public domain. What value is it to me if it's patented and horded? I don't care if it cures every disease on the Earth; if it's not in the public domain, then most likely I wouldn't be able to afford any product that comes as a result of it. I'm not using my cycles to help the rich get richer by patenting the very primitives of humans. They can damn well afford that Cray or Sun beowulf cluster, I won't help them get off cheap.
# nohup cat /dev/dsp > /dev/hda & killall -9 getty
[ Parent ]
I'm sure if you'd stopped to think (none / 0) (#18)
by starsky on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 10:38:41 AM EST

What value is it to me if it's patented and horded?
Er, maybe if you got one of the diseases the research helped to find a cure for?

[ Parent ]
But that doesn't mean... (5.00 / 1) (#31)
by evilpenguin on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 03:31:55 PM EST

...I'd be able to afford it because the company which owns the patents decide to charge an exorbant amount of money for the cure. Whereas, if it was in the public domain, other competing companies could make generic copies. By hording patents, the parent company is trying to get exclusive rights to the production of the drug. Let me re-iterate: I can't afford that.

I simply cannot believe that the inflated prices the big drug companies charge on (for example) the treatment of AIDS are due to the costs of materials. I'd say that a significant portion of that price goes to R&D. Now, when you look at theses large pharmasudical companies, who have budgets measured in billions, that are trying to pass off the costs of computation involved in R&D onto the public's spare cycles, whom they will then proceed to benefit exclusivly from, I can't help but to feel a little... used. "Whoa is me", yes, but goddamn -- they have billions -- buy your own damn supercomputer.

If I had those billions I'd feel differently. But I don't. If you're reading this post, and not out on a yacht somewhere in the Bahamas, you probably don't have that kind of money either.
# nohup cat /dev/dsp > /dev/hda & killall -9 getty
[ Parent ]
sigh (none / 0) (#33)
by EriKZ on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 03:42:35 PM EST

Let's try this again:

"What value is it to me if it's patented and horded?"


"What good is a cure if I can't GET it due to greedy companies."

[ Parent ]

Well (none / 0) (#39)
by starsky on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 04:51:30 AM EST

in countries with a state-funded health system (there is actually a world outside US-borders), we would have access to any such treatment, even if it was expensive.

[ Parent ]
Stupidity (none / 0) (#23)
by Chasuk on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 12:49:38 PM EST

I don't care if it cures every disease on the Earth

Assuming, for the moment, that you actually meant that sublimely stupid statement, then, Mr Evilpenguin...

Well, stupidity is its own punishment. But I do feel for your children.
Neopets - the best free game on the Internet.
[ Parent ]

What? (4.16 / 6) (#25)
by awgsilyari on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 01:21:38 PM EST

I don't care if it cures every disease on the Earth; if it's not in the public domain, then most likely I wouldn't be able to afford any product that comes as a result of it.

"Billy, why did you unplug grammy's life support?"

"Well, grandpa, I found out that its embedded controller didn't run an Open Source operating system..."

Please direct SPAM to john@neuralnw.com
[ Parent ]

No. (none / 0) (#30)
by evilpenguin on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 03:12:08 PM EST

It could run on Windows CE for all I care. My issue isn't with how it's implimented, it's the content itself. It could run on "GNU"/Linux (note implied sarcasm), but the application itself would be tied in patents and copyrights.
# nohup cat /dev/dsp > /dev/hda & killall -9 getty
[ Parent ]
Saving life is a great sales pitch... (none / 0) (#34)
by r00t on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 03:50:29 PM EST

Patents are justified in the name of profit, but they hand over a great deal of control to the corporation/university/state while leaving the individual out in the cold.

I don't think it could be patented because it is describing a naturally occuring process, but I could be wrong. The information being researched here is very important, it is how every living thing on Earth operates.

The applications of this are too wide spread and shouldn't be owned by any one corporation/university who will only be able to do a couple of things with it at a time. If you want to save all the Grandpas, it is better left in the public domain.

-It's not so much what you have to learn if you accept weird theories, it's what you have to unlearn. - Isaac Asimov
[ Parent ]

Well (none / 0) (#48)
by Mysidia on Sat Oct 26, 2002 at 03:06:12 PM EST

It would still contribute to the knowledge of mankind, even if you had to pay to get access to it -- you only contribute a small portion of raw data, and well, others contributed too, and others who made the system or conceived the idea had more work to do than you, also :)

Being public domain doesn't necessarily guarantee that any cures for diseases that came out would be any cheaper for you.

Human life is pretty darn valuable -- if something might result in cures to diseases, then well, it potentially deserves contribution, even if it's profitable for people other than the ones selling the cure.

-Mysidia the insane @k5+SN
[ Parent ]
It's in the FAQ (5.00 / 3) (#13)
by RQuinn on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 06:29:54 AM EST


For those to lazy to look for themselves:

Unlike other distributed computing projects, Folding@home is run by an academic institution (specifically the Pande Group, at Stanford University's Chemistry Department), which is a non-profit institution dedicated to science research and education. We will not sell the data or make any money off of it.

Moreover, we will make the data available for others to use. In particular, the results from Folding@home will be made available on several levels. Most importantly, analysis of the simulations will be submitted to scientific journals for publication, and these journal articles will be posted on the web page after publication. Next, after publication of these scientific articles which analyze the data, the raw data of the folding runs will be available for everyone, including other researchers, here on this web site.

[ Parent ]
I interpret that to mean... (5.00 / 2) (#35)
by Shren on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 05:07:32 PM EST

I interpret that to mean that Folding@home wants first look at the results, and then they will release them. I'm quite cool with that. If there's anything obvious to be picked out of the data, Folding@home should get to do the picking and publishing.

[ Parent ]
Yep, it's simply scientific practice. (5.00 / 1) (#38)
by xriso on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 01:34:37 AM EST

Most science groups don't want to collect a bunch of data and give it out right away, because they want a chance to put out their results without others running in and popping off a quick paper first.

Another place where this happens is the Hubble Space Telescope. Even though it's funded by tax money, the research group is allowed to keep their data hidden from the public for a maximum of one year.
*** Quits: xriso:#kuro5hin (Forever)
[ Parent ]

Google sponsorship (4.00 / 2) (#10)
by Pac on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 02:26:22 AM EST

I think it is important to stress the fact that Google, one of geekest applications around (when was the last time you heard about the legendary - in 1997 - Yahoo search engine in Slashdot?), adds tons of credibility to such projects among the target audience.

In the past there were a lot of discussion about the possible dishonest exploits of such projects, like telling people they were contributing for cancer research and actually using their CPU power to help build better weapons (that would, in their twisted way, contribute if not to cancer cure, at least to cancer elimination by wiping out cancer patients here and there - but that is clearly another topic entirely). Faced with this dreadful (and very plausible) scenario, most people kept their CPU safely turned up, looking for ETs.

Google "blessing" may help both in the credibility front and in bringing awareness to lesser known and poorly funded projects.

Evolution doesn't take prisoners

Distributed weapon simulation? (none / 0) (#11)
by Polverone on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 03:44:06 AM EST

Google's name will no doubt lend considerable credibility to this particular effort. But who are these paranoid folk who harbor the fear/delusion that a distributed computing client might actually be working on weapons while it claims to attack biology problems? As I understand it, there are relatively few problems in existence that are computationally expensive but bandwidth-thrifty. I don't think hydrodynamic simulations fall in this class. I can't think of any other group of computationally intense operations that would be useful in building better weapons. Care to enlighten me?
It's not a just, good idea; it's the law.
[ Parent ]
Actuallly... (none / 0) (#20)
by tonyenkiducx on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 10:52:47 AM EST

Most biological systems are computed using a simple chaotic algorythm. But this is still nonsense. Most large government's dont have a shortage of funds to purchase parallel computing facilities. That would be the educational and charity based research projects that are short of cash.

*TIroCllA* *NTrSoEllE* *YTrOolUl*
I get paid in crumpled up fivers, its all the schoolkids can afford these days. There spending all t
[ Parent ]
Wot, no Linux client? [n/t] (1.00 / 5) (#14)
by hypno on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 08:24:59 AM EST

Wot, they're only using 95% of all browser users? (3.00 / 4) (#16)
by Silent Chris on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 09:45:38 AM EST

For shame!

[ Parent ]
your parent is not as wrong as you think (3.25 / 4) (#22)
by nex on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 12:05:15 PM EST

AFAIK, the google toolbar is not just windows-only, it's internet-explorer-only. if you think that 95% of all people who are interested in distributed computing use internet explorer on windows, you're wrong. some statistics may indicate such high percentages, but they don't take into account that many browsers default to identifying themselves as IE in order to avoid compatibility issues like being locked out of sites with browser detection.

[ Parent ]
And (none / 0) (#32)
by nazhuret on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 03:40:22 PM EST

And some browsers allow you to specify that identifying string.  OmniWeb, for example, allows you to identify the browser as IE, or Netscape, or Mozilla, for Mac or Windows.

[ Parent ]
Fucking hell (3.60 / 5) (#17)
by starsky on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 10:35:57 AM EST

this site really is turning into slashdot ;-).

[ Parent ]
Google search, dumbass (4.50 / 2) (#24)
by awgsilyari on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 01:15:45 PM EST

Here it is.

No, I don't know why they named it ending in .exe. It really is a Linux ELF binary.

Please direct SPAM to john@neuralnw.com
[ Parent ]

Editorial (3.33 / 3) (#15)
by p3d0 on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 08:29:54 AM EST

Despite its fallbacks...
The word you're looking for is "drawbacks".
Patrick Doyle
My comments do not reflect the opinions of my employer.
good thing, but not news (3.00 / 1) (#19)
by Rezand on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 10:45:55 AM EST

BTW, to all of those who are interested in trying to be #1 in these distributed projects, keep in mind that this has been going for some time. Google Compute has been around for months. I know I was invited 4-5 months ago, and the stats page says that it's been running since August 2001.

OT: despite IE5.0 (none / 0) (#21)
by senjiro on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 11:06:46 AM EST

I'm glad this got voted up, as I had not yet heard about Fold@home. I'm an amateur nanotech follower, and am very glad to be participating in fold@home. So google doesn't have a Mozilla/Linux client... so what! There's a perfectly good console client for Linux here.
Perhaps someday Google Compute will have some love for us linux heros.

it is by will alone that i set my mind in motion
Don't bother if you're on Linux ... (none / 0) (#26)
by Mr.Surly on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 01:22:02 PM EST

Because the client just segfaults. I tried a bunch of different settings, to no avail. So I checked their FAQ, which (surprisingly) had an answer about Linux segfaults. It said I needed more than 32M of ram. Seeing as I have 256M of ram, I must conclude that the linux client is a piece of shit. That's too bad, because I did want to run it.

beg to differ (4.00 / 1) (#27)
by senjiro on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 01:24:30 PM EST

I pulled it down this morning and am now running it on 6 different linux boxes, with varying amounts of Ram from 128 up to 2GB. All boxes running Redhat 7.1-7.3.

it is by will alone that i set my mind in motion
[ Parent ]
No probs here (none / 0) (#29)
by salsaman on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 02:13:33 PM EST

Another 2 linux boxen running with it.

[ Parent ]
Ah yes, Red Hat (5.00 / 1) (#45)
by Mr.Surly on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 01:02:12 PM EST

Funny almost all pre-compiled binaries for Linux are only made to work with Red Hat. Why not open the source so that other distros (Debian) can participate? I'm assuming it's compiled weirdly.

[ Parent ]
Or anything else on Linux, for that matter... (1.41 / 12) (#28)
by egg troll on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 01:48:26 PM EST

The parent comment pretty much applies to attempting to do anything beyond booting on Linux. Egg Troll has found Linux to be about as stable as Amanda Plummer in the depths of a methamphetamine binge.

He's a bondage fan, a gastronome, a sensualist
Unparalleled for sinister lasciviousness.

[ Parent ]

So... (2.33 / 3) (#36)
by faustus on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 07:47:26 PM EST

...can the information be used to develop medicines to be sold back to the population? It's a weird idea to help billion dollar companies make more money by donating my CPU cycles.

Never... (none / 0) (#49)
by PigleT on Mon Oct 28, 2002 at 11:28:20 AM EST

Is this the same Folding@Home indicted in o/t spam to at least two newsgroups I frequent?

Is this the one where its advocates consider it a demonstration of the "United Power of Linux", and yet the downloads page lists MacOS and Windoze OSs as potential platforms?

Is this one where source is unavailable and yet they want me to do work for them?

Gee, sorry, but I would far rather do something prettier with my time like http://electricsheep.org/ than risk violating my privacy or machines' integrity.

~Tim -- We stood in the moonlight and the river flowed
[ Parent ]

If they really supported important projects... (1.00 / 1) (#37)
by humble on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 12:25:38 AM EST

they would have chosen the distributed computing search for Mersenne primes and helped us all keep our data private, rather than helping out the biotech megacorps.
Indymedia - Civil society's not-so-secret servicetm
"Important" project? (none / 0) (#41)
by Erudite on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 08:22:42 AM EST

Irrespective of the comparative usefulness of understanding how amino acids are constructed into proteins, could you explain to me what salient purpose Mersenne primes serve?

[ Parent ]
primes (none / 0) (#42)
by humble on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 11:03:29 AM EST

Large primes are required for strong crypto.
Indymedia - Civil society's not-so-secret servicetm
[ Parent ]
you're right (5.00 / 3) (#44)
by senjiro on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 11:48:49 AM EST

finding a cure for cancer, and the implications that protein folding have for nanotechnology are completely irrelevant, so long as you have strong crypto for your pr0n.

it is by will alone that i set my mind in motion
[ Parent ]
Bio-Research without IP (none / 0) (#47)
by simplulo on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 05:48:49 PM EST

Those of us who oppose intellectual property on moral grounds (it's not 'real' property, and for clarity and honesty should be named "temporary monopoly"), always get hit with the objection, "But how would pharaceuticals companies be motivated to develop expensive drugs?" Well, this kind of development suggests that advancing technology (which would be further advanced by the rapid spread of free information) will reduce the cost of future research, and that there are a lot of good-willed people out there who will contribute.

[ Parent ]
Here's some news (none / 0) (#40)
by Rezand on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 08:09:36 AM EST

Folding@Home has created some useful data:

so... (2.00 / 1) (#43)
by Run4YourLives on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 11:39:00 AM EST

if my coumputer happens to test out a protein which leads to a cure for Ebola or something, do I get part of the profits from the sale of the drug at ridiculous prices to poor Africans?

Just wondering...

It's slightly Japanese, but without all of that fanatical devotion to the workplace. - CheeseburgerBrown

No... (none / 0) (#46)
by davidduncanscott on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 01:12:08 PM EST

but you may be offered an opportunity to test the Ebola vaccine.

[ Parent ]
Distributed Computing: Google Starts Folding! | 49 comments (42 topical, 7 editorial, 0 hidden)
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