We are awash with a unprecedented abundance of Free* computing capacity.  The equivalent of millions of servers, hundreds of millions of PCs and who knows how many mobile phone handsets, referring to the unused capacity on machines bought, paid for and running.  See “It’s Not a Cloud.  It’s a Mine.”  In addition, we have thousands of Free Applications (FreeApps) available via Web 2.0.  We have hardly begun to realize the potential wealth — scientific, social, educational and monetary — that could be unlocked by virtue of exploiting this capacity.

Evidence of the Theme, present today:

We have rich 3d simulated space in which to:

  • Collaboratively develop insight, knowledge and overcome our limited human ability to perceive scale.  Example:  Second Life Drexel Island with avatar-sized molecules rezzed to view, interact with, and experience how they dock with proteins, etc. Free.
  • Collaboratively develop new insights by rezzing data in novel structures in which to interact, view and experience them.  Example:  Second Life Data Visualization;  Green Phosphor Data Visualization; and Sun’s Project Wonderland.  Free and almost Free.
  • Modify physics engine to better understand interactions of materials on at nano-scale, for example.
  • Modify physics engine to simulate a Mars expedition, for example.  No reason we couldn’t create a Mars mission simulation and let the 5 to 8 y.o. kids of today (Club Penguin and Webkinz digital natives) play with it, creating an impulse to the right educational track and to create an abundant pool of qualified crew candidates 20+ years from now.  Free to use.
  • Eliminate geographic and language barriers for those who may have reason to come together to solve a problem, learn a concept, evaluate a medical outcome.  Free.
  • Overcome physical and social barriers.  Simple example:  allow a handicapped person to experience and express some human interaction such as dance, not otherwise available.  Free.
  • Amazon with EC2 and Google with App Engine, attempting to monetize directly and indirectly (new business models, perceived stock value, etc.) spare computing capacity through Utility Computing. Almost free.
  • Paraphrasing Clay Shirky from Here Comes Everybody:  It is now cheaper to just try something on the web than it is to do the analysis as to whether or not it will work.  Almost free.
  • Seti@Home achieved 528 TeraFLOPs via 334,155 active computers in 210 countries, as of August 2008.

Missing Pieces:

Meanwhile, I note the elements missing in order to take advantage of this great abundance of our time:

  • Educated and informed practitioners who can identify the problems to solve, formulate them in a manner which allows Utility Computing and Free Apps to solve them
  • Informed business leaders who understand the power of the abundant and free computing that can be brought to bear on big problems, and can most importantly frame the value propositions such that we can attract and fund talent (not so free) to solve them
  • Leadership.

* I am taking license to define “Free” as any cost less than a Starbuck’s latte grande, on a per month, week or day basis (haven’t decided).