There have been several projects floating around involving distributed computing in a non-charity context. Unlike the charity-type distcomp projects like SETI@Home, distributed.net, Folding@Home, and friends, people who donate computing resources to these get something in return. The general form for this is: a token has the value of a certain number of operations, and also a value in some real-world currency. Someone can spend tokens in exchange for processing, or exchange them with real money, and people whose machines perform processing get tokens in exchange. It seems very straightforward.
The problem is, it's entirely useless.
The kinds of problems that can be trivially distributed are few and far between. There's cryptanalysis, protein folding, gene sequencing, the kind of rank-computing that gets done at google's data centers on hadoop... Most of the CPU-intensive tasks that one can list off are either also very data-intensive (huge data sets are easier to handle in-house than to send flying across the world, especially when the smallest chunks you can deal with are a couple hundred megs) or of no interest to anyone outside of academia (and thus worth very little money) -- in other words, video encoding and finding primes are out of the picture. We're left with things like cryptanalysis, which is somewhat problematic since the people willing to spend money to bruteforce encryption are probably either spooks or crooks (and the spooks have their own machines for this kind of thing).
I'd absolutely love to run this kind of system, because I'm wasting plenty of cycles at home and I'm not getting any richer. If any of you can think of a problem that would be a good fit for this solution, *please* let me know. I'll give you a million free cycles on my new distcomp network.
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