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Gaming for the greater good! How gaming PC power can help fight coronavirus

By Adam Pockross
COVID-19 coronavirus illustration

With the spread of the coronavirus now making social distancing the norm, it might seem like the perfect time to just escape into a video game for the next month or so. Presumably you’ll need to sleep, though (after all, that’s what gaming beds are for), so while you’re on break from your Last of Us, worrying about the last of us, perhaps you can lend your gaming PC to help save the rest of us?

Hoping to garner the collective graphical power of global gamers for the greater good, a computing group out of Stanford University, PC Master Race, is hoping you’ll join up in their project. Basically: People link their computers up, and when that PC isn’t busy running games and such, its computing power is diverted to aid in the research of various diseases, including COVID-19.

If you’re reluctant to join anyone advertising a master race, we get it, but PC Master Race seems to be a whole lot more altruistic, as they simply advertise themselves as “a community of PC enthusiasts who acknowledge the objective advantages of the PC for a multitude of activities, gaming included.”

So what exactly happens? According to the team’s website, you just install a small program on your PC, and it “downloads a small amount of data that it analyses,” and then automatically sends the results back to the Stanford researchers. Obviously, coronavirus is no game, so the group is joining up with GPU manufacturing and parallel processing giant Nvidia in seeking out gamers to download the software that basically does the work for you.

That computing power is then used to help simulate protein folding — the process by which proteins reach their actual 3D structure — in order to examine the causes of protein misfolding.

The program can just be on your taskbar, unobtrusive and at the ready, or you can see a full-on graphic representation of the protein you're researching. And because saving the world also makes for a great screensaver, you can choose that option as well.

“Everyone, no matter the hardware they possess, has a chance to help the research for, and, perhaps, make a big difference in the life of other people,” notes the site. “Who knows if we ourselves, or our children won't benefit from these researches? Every little bit can help! It's effectively making it so scientists get faster access to information."

Presumably you share in the Nobel Prize as well.

Before coronavirus disrupted the world order, this particular initiative was focused on aiding research on multiple forms of cancer, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and Parkinson's disease. But now you can also help fight a pandemic ... while taking a break from playing Pandemic.

The united computing power of the gaming community would sure be something, but really, NASA's got the best computers. Or maybe IBM. Or perhaps M.I.T. Or actually, what about everyone working together?

That seems to be the thinking behind the newly formed COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium that the White House announced today (Mar. 23, 2020). According to the press release, the group will provide "COVID-19 researchers worldwide with access to the world’s most powerful high performance computing resources that can significantly advance the pace of scientific discovery in the fight to stop the virus."

As such, administrator Jim Bridenstine is firing up NASA's super-computing rockets for the task:

According to the press release, the goal of the consortium is to unleash "the full capacity of our world-class supercomputers to rapidly advance scientific research for treatments and a vaccine."

Participants also include representatives from industry like IBM, Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, Microsoft, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise; as well as from academia, as represented by Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. A number of representatives from the U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratories and NASA's fellow federal agency the National Science Foundation will also participate.

That's a lot of computing power and expertise to help the good fight. But that doesn't mean we don't need you too, gamers. For more information on being a gamer for the greater good, head to PC Master Race.

(via GamesRadar)

This article was updated with the NASA news Mar. 3 at 3:00 p.m. ET.