Once upon a time (about 20 years ago) there was a program called SETI – the Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence. You could download a screensaver – that would switch on when you logged off – to use your computer’s processing power to crunch astronomical radio data, searching for signs of alien life.

This ‘volunteer computing’ wasn’t the first use of this amazing concept, but it soon spread to solving all sorts of great projects that couldn’t otherwise afford massive processing power – ranging from disease analyses to maths, linguistics, climatology. See BOINC for more fascinating insight.


In my graphic novel, The Oracle Machine, the rogue computer uses distributed processing to try gain more processing power to solve Lena’s mysterious dream query. But when it can’t solve it, it starts hacking into more and more other computers online, seeking their power, whilst effectively taking over the Internet…

This week IBM unveiled a very worthy (and hopefully far more benign) volunteer distributed processing project – to research potential COVID-19 treatments. Find out more here.

the Oracle Machine pg 13