I had the opportunity to participate in something really interesting. Sony PlayStation at one time had a deal with a research team to loan out the processors in unused PlayStation consoles to help with laboratory research. Players had the option to log on to “Folding @ Home,” in which there were a handful of visual options showing photos or public webcams from around the world or actually watching the molecular process, and the research project ran a simulation in the background using the PlayStation’s processor while the console would otherwise have been inactive.
The folding of proteins is one of life’s mysteries that happens so quickly and is so complex that science was having a hard time breaking it down. With “Folding @ Home,” the console’s processor jumped into the work already in progress, took the simulation a few stages further, and then logged out so the player could switch to something more fun and decidedly less academic, leaving the project to be picked up by the next console to log on. They were able to do 30 years worth of research in one year by borrowing unused processors around the world rather than trying to do it alone. Learning how proteins fold can unlock the key to understanding and eventually curing many diseases, all because the world’s gamers opted to loan out their system while they slept.
But of all the high-tech equipment in the world, why PlayStation? Isn’t that kind of like upgrading missile silos by reaching out to Matel?
Video game consoles process the highest level of graphics available with seamless transition from one move to the next despite the literally millions of choices the player may have made to get there. As computers go, a game console is limited to what it was designed to do, but it is therefore perfectly designed to offer the best visual and auditory experience possible with no lag. And that takes a whole lot of processing. You’d be surprised how powerful your console is.
For those non-gamers out there, a nod of respect for the high-end tech it takes to make those fantasy worlds come to life. And for you gamers out there, a high-five of appreciation—your console is powerful enough to help cure cancer.
For those video game designers out there, a moment of reverence. We know that for every minute of game play there were hundreds of hours invested in making it perfect, and enough stuff on the proverbial cutting room floor to make three more full length titles. If you think your console needs to be powerful, think of the tech necessary to design the games in the first place. Then give us a call. I love to talk about it. This stuff’s really interesting.