What Was The First Volunteer Distributed Computing Project?
Although SETI@home–the University of California project that enlisted tens of thousands of computers across the world to analyze data from the Arecibo radio telescope array–most certainly put the idea of distributed-computing on the map for most geeks, it wasn’t the first project of its kind.
Three years prior to the start of the SETI@home project was the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS) project. Started in the 1996, GIMPS was (and remains) focused on using distributed computing power to find Mersenne prime numbers–prime numbers that are one less than the power of two. As of the spring of 2012 the project has had a throughput of over 86 teraflops and discovered 13 Mersenne prime numbers.
Since the GIMPS project, distributed computing has been applied to all manner of problems including analysis of extraterrestrial signals (SETI@home), protein analysis (Folding@home), decentralized currency (Bitcoin), and even rendering screen savers (Electric Sheep).