Whenever I introduce the topic of peer to peer networks to my students, I start by discussing Napster, Kazaa and Bearshare. Despite the geographic and cultural diversity of these students, they all seem connected by whatever media and file sharing these peer networks afford. I had one student say to me after a lecture, “Sir, you know bout bearshare?” This was to make known his surprise at my familiarity with a technology believed to be exclusive to him and his peers. What I eventually arrive at, after the chuckles and digression about the latest downloads, is the relationship that P2P has with the concept of anarchy.
What I often do not have time to discuss however, is the relevance and alternate use for this type of technology. Assuming that you are familiar with the peer to peer internet structures, there is much good that can be contributed beside the occasional download and sharing of music files. In 1997, distributed.net began what it refers to as the internet's first general-purpose distributed computing project. Many groups have since emerged to build upon the size and processing power of their distributed communities. These p2p operations are more accurately described as grid computing. In short, they allow for computers when left idle, to contribute their processing power toward a collective good. This power is then tapped by a central source and is used for tackling enormous computing problems. Some of these “problems” include, forecasting weather, searching for extra-terrestrials and performing needed research in many areas of health such as cancer and HIV/AIDS.
FightAIDS@Home is one such project and its recent partnership with World Community Grid is hoped at tapping into an even larger network. This is yet another evidence of communities which emerge as a response to the AIDS pandemic. You too can join the AIDS community and help search for a cure.