What Is Gridcoin and How Can It Advance Science?
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Gridcoin is an open-source cryptocurrency (Ticker: GRC) that rewards you for donating your idle computing time to the BOINC volunteer computing grid, which I’ve written about previously. It is essentially a platform that combines individuals’ computers together to form a supercomputing grid for scientific research. Access to BOINC is free for scientific projects with data to process, whilst those donating processor power can now be rewarded with Gridcoin cryptocurrency.
The Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing platform (BOINC) was created at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2002. It is the dominant platform for volunteer computing and currently reports over 30 active research projects and more than 600,000 active computers at any given time. As such, it could be ranked among the top five largest processing capabilities on the planet when compared with individual supercomputers on the Supercomputer TOP500 list.
BOINC supports data crunching across the spectrum of scientific research. For example, one of the projects running on BOINC is the World Community Grid (WCG), an umbrella project that supports a group of non-profit research organizations and currently includes the Microbiome Immunity Project, Smash Childhood Cancer, and Outsmart Ebola Together. At least 165 scientific papers have been published using results from BOINC projects.
How BOINC Works
The BOINC framework is based on a client-server architecture. Each BOINC project hosts an individual project server, which stores and distributes project data to its clients. Calculations are performed on a client computer and the results are uploaded back to the server. The client will routinely contact the project’s servers to request tasks (known as work units), while the project server keeps track of the individual client’s "credit" to measure how much work it has done for the project. Upon verification of the validity and honesty of a client’s completed work unit, a reward, in the form of BOINC credits, is allocated to serve as proof of participation. When you start mining Gridcoin, your BOINC credits are used to calculate your GRC reward.
While running BOINC, your computer is using more electricity than if it was left idle. This means that you are effectively paying to support scientific research by adding to your electricity bill. Gridcoin was developed by Rob Halford, a computer scientist, to reimburse contributors to the BOINC network for costs incurred and incentivise contribution of computer idle time.
How Gridcoin Works
Gridcoin is an open-source blockchain that mints and distributes cryptocurrency. It is secured through a proof-of-stake protocol and monitors processing contributions to BOINC. Gridcoin can be bought and sold in exchange for conventional currencies, such as the USD, or it can be traded on cryptocurrency exchanges.
“The Gridcoin blockchain genesis block was mined using a proof-of-work protocol on October 16th, 2013. Gridcoin continued as a proof-of-work blockchain until October 11th, 2014, when it forked onto a proof-of-stake protocol to secure the blockchain based on the number of active GRC on the Gridcoin network. Gridcoin has evolved through several iterations of proof-of-stake and incentive structures. Currently, proof-of-stake is used to secure the Gridcoin blockchain while the primary incentive structure is based on processing power contributed to approved BOINC projects.”
Proof-of-stake is a protocol that minimizes processing resources and is a green blockchain security protocol. The compute power to secure the blockchain is minimal, and it performs the function of Bitcoin’s proof-of-work without the need for energy intensive calculations. As is often pointed out, Bitcoin mining is incredibly resource intensive, but mining Gridcoin is different and nearly all the power it uses (up to 98 percent efficiency) is directed into data crunching to benefit science rather than somewhat useless hashing.
Also unlike Bitcoin, which these days requires ASICS to mine efficiently, you can use standard hardware. There is a range of BOINC projects on the whitelist; some are better suited for CPUs, while others are better for GPUs. There are guidelines, and you can opt for the project that is best suited to the type of hardware you intend to offer.
There are plenty of additional details in the Gridcoin white paper, which includes some nice statistics, such as the fact that Gridcoin contributes approximately 28 percent of BOINC’s computing power.
The Power of the Computer Collective
Personal computer hardware is idle for much of its lifetime, and if you add up the number of devices worldwide, the available computing power that is sitting idle is significant indeed. Distributed computing is a way of harnessing this combined power to create a supercomputer. This supercomputer is not powerful in its own right; its power is directly related to the number of participating computers donating idle time to the network.
Gridcoin defines Idle Processing Potential (IPP) as the processing power of a computing device multiplied by the proportion of unused processing over time. Any object with a processor can be part of this network — not only computers, but also tablets, smartphones, gaming systems, and even cars, toys, or smart appliances.
Thought experiment: what computing potential do the world’s smartphones offer a distributed computer grid? If the iPhone 6 is a typical smartphone and is capable of running seven gigaFLOPS, assuming all 2 billion smartphones in circulation operate at this level, then smartphones can provide a grid network approximately 14 exaFLOPS in combination. Let’s further assume that these smartphones are idle just half of the time, we can say the IPP of the global smartphone computing network is about seven exaFLOPS.
If you’re interested in setting up as a data cruncher, either on your own or as part of a pool, the Gridcoin site has a set of detailed instructions, and the wiki has a comprehensive FAQ. Don’t expect to make a fortune from donating your computer’s idle time, but you can anticipate a warm, fuzzy feeling knowing that you are, indirectly, contributing to scientific research.
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