Citizen Collective Computing Power!

I am a self declared, unabashed geek and have been since my earliest years when I was an early reader. To put some very concrete oomph behind that self description, I would offer the following story. My father was a very bright man, a poor kid from East Texas,  small place called El Mina, paradoxically enough as he put himself through college and became a  mining engineer. That little township is but a memory, has not existed for decades and is now in the midst of a Georgia Pacific commercial tree farm. He was I suppose a geek in his own right and recognized the computer revolution in the early 1950’s. His idea of  book to read to me at night for entertainment was none other than the early computer scientist, Norbert Wiener’s book originally published in 1948 [though he and I read the 1961 paperback edition] of Cybernetics, Second Edition: or Control and Communication…That was followed by books on cyber math, math systems based on base 8, etc. I was fascinated by all this and learned to keep my mouth shut about my exploding interests in this arena since if I mentioned in my primary grade school classes, classmates would haze and harass me and teachers except in parochial Catholic schools would peer at me as if I were an alien from outer space and hush me up abruptly and to stop distracting the class. I suppose most precocious geek types go through these kinds of experiences when one realizes you are so different that there will always be a chasm between you and most of your friends for years. This was only relieved when I hit more advanced grades and schools at an accelerated pace and found like minded geeks.

Well it gladdens my heart to read the now very current article in PC World, entitled, “EVE Online” players are solving real-world science problems” Meet Project Discovery by Hayden Dingman. Mr. Attila Szantner the co-founder of Massively Multiplier Online Science (MMOS, at mmos.ch) [I had never heard of him either, but with that first name….] was quoted as saying, “This is going to be the next big revolution in citizen science.”

Mr. Szantner was speaking at an event also unknown to me as I am not much of a gamer [but of course my teen son certainly is], called EVE Fanfest 2016. He was speaking about something I had heard only snippets about, Project Discovery, “a mini-game in EVE Online that’s quite a bit more than it appears.”

Some readers will recall that 1-2 decades ago national and international computer projects were amassed in which any science minded person could log on through the Internet to a massive multi-computer network and permit their machine to be used in off hours to participate and contribute computer power to astronomical projects and the more well known human genome project. The latter greatly benefited from many of us participating and the human genome mapping project was accomplished far sooner than had been projected by the scientific community.

I will not go into much detail derived from the above cited article in PC Magazine, except to summarize the incredibly ingenious aspect to this game EVE Online. Players cooperate online as has been going on for more than a decade in such networks as the X Box nation and the Playstation gaming network. Players earn incentives by mapping the locations of REAL human genome proteins. It turns out simplistically speaking, that like real estate the key to the function and workings of proteins, the working horses at the micro-cellular level, is “location, location, location.” The identification of the human genome has been accomplished for over 15 years now as the article points out. But WHAT the genes do remains largely unknown. We know the function of some especially in the areas of pharmacology at the cellular membrane level, and in the various sub-fields of oncology when “gene typing” helps to determine in yet only a relative few types of cancers, what kinds of anti-tumor treatment approaches hold the most benefit for a cancer patient.

The effort underway utilizing the almost unbelievable approach of harnessing the multi-computing power of the multi-player game EVE Online, called Project Discovery, is based in Sweden through a scientific consortium for want of a better term, the Human Protein Atlas (HPA) at the link proteinatlas.org. So far it turns out that in a short time, utilizing this amassed computing power of this gaming network, over 8 million gene locations have been mapped out, at an estimated rate of 150,000  a day. Members of Project Discovery estimated that the amount of work put into this project amounted to a staggering 163 working years.

This is a model of cooperative scientific endeavor is not to be scoffed at any longer. Cary, IBM and Fujitsu Supercomputers cannot be funded for every university’s department of biochemistry or medical school. This model hopefully will be inculcated in our students worldwide as the Raspberry Pi computing model of education becomes second hand to all future generations of students, and lead them to devise investigational computing models that go far beyond enlisting the Nations of Gamers.

But in the meantime, I know that I am going to investigate this game, and spring it on my son and his computing, weight-lifting, pizza gobbling, sweaty tennis shoe’ed, game controlling fanatic friends downstairs in their man den of male exclusivity.

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