Processing Life Like Watson on Jeopardy or World Community Grid

This is sort of a quasi review slash life contemplation post, and really ended up just being a really random article, so stick with it, but I still don’t promise a coherent application at the end this time.  The title could just as easily been “How Can We Harness our Power for God’s Glory”, so maybe this is just part 1 or maybe I’m just rambling today.

A while back when Watson won on Jeopardy! (video) I watched as each “person” explained a little about the charity they would donate their winnings to if they won. IBM was to donate 100% of their winnings to a group called World Community Grid (a “charity” actually run and sponsored by IBM, so in essence they gave their $1 million winnings to themselves, but that’s another post, see also their wiki-page).

Since Watson won I have been running a pseudo test-run on the World Community Grid (WCG) system, which helps non-profits process images to fight cancer, find water to drill a well, and so on, by using the unused processing power of an idle computer user. This is almost identical to the early SETI@home project that was so popular about 10 years ago and now processes things like FightAIDS@home and “Computing for Clean Water”.

It’s a fantastic idea. Use the unused and idle time on a computer’s processor to crunch gigantic data streams that single computers just can’t do and are extremely expensive to run on mainframe computers. After running their system on a few different computers for several weeks my short personal pros/cons for WCG are:

  • The system is unobtrusive
  • Runs in the background
  • Is customizable to your computer’s system requirements
  • Does help fight cancer etc but it’s “in the cloud” and impersonal
  • Uses a TON more system resources than normal use (more heat, wear and tear etc)

Can We Harness Our Time and Mind Like WCG?

I still think this is such a great idea for computers that are just sitting there doing nothing almost all of the time, but so is donating those computers to non-profits that REALLY need them? This reminded me of the Toomer’s Oaks when over $30,000 was raised in a few days and thousands and thousands rallied for a few trees.  It came up during the the conversations that week as well. Can’t we somehow utilize or harness this pent up man-power or money for something REALLY productive like fighting the underage sex trade going on all over the world or helping people in our own state who need food?

That’s what brought me to WCG.  They do this.  So why can’t we as people, as followers of Christ, do what WCG is doing with computers? I quickly came to at least a few reasons why we can’t do this.

  1. There is No Down Time at All – I really think this is something that we, especially as Christians, need to build into our life, margin. We can use all our extra spare unused processing brain power or time to do great things but that leaves no margin in our life whatsoever.
  2. Eventually We Would Overheat – my test computers never overheated but they were averaging cpu temps around 175*F with cooling fans blowing at 2,000+ RPM’s continually, 24-7, heating up the casings, monitors, etc.  Eventually we would overheat, or burn out.  Burnout is something we should fight against all the time, it robs us of times we can be productive.
  3. Just Because it Works on a Computer – I heard a podcast sermon recently that said one of the greatest tragedies in our culture today is our school teaching children they are just pieces of matter thrown together that happened to form a human being. As advanced as science is now, we are unique, individually special people, made in God’s image, we are not random pieces of matter or even computers.

So I guess my ultimate question is one I have asked myself for years now. How can we utilize the power of the Internet, social media, our spare time, to glorify God, and do so in a way that makes an impact on someone else’s life for Christ, so they will in turn do the same?

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