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Smartphones, tablets, and Internet connected televisions are equipped with progressively powerful processors that could be pooled to help cure infectious diseases and even tackle climate change.

Intel uses volunteer computing applications to tackle climate change modeling and to help researchers find cures for infectious diseases.

Internet connected devices like game consoles, iPads, smartphones, and televisions, might one day help find a cure for cancer and other deadly diseases.

Processors are everywhere. Even a flat screen TV is a computer; its software connects devices for sharing media and accessing Internet services. The smartphone that sits in your pocket is more complex than the computers that took Apollo astronauts to the moon.

Intel Progress through Processors project lead John Cooney is brainstorming ways to harness the increasingly powerful processors that are found in home electronics and computing appliances for philanthropic causes.

Tens of thousands of donors have already contributed their PC’s unused processing power by installing a volunteer computing program on their PCs over the past decade. When combined, their individual PCs form a massive peer-to-peer grids that rival the world’s fastest super computers.

Projects such as Berkeley’s extraterrestrial seeking SETI@home helped popularize the volunteer computing concept, which is now used by several different organizations to tackle some of the world’s most pressing problem such as cancer, climate change, HIV, malaria, and sustainability.

“In addition to the continued strong growth in the number of personal computer people are buying, people are also adopting other devices such as tablets, netbooks, smart TVs, smart phones, and even game consoles, which all have processors and as such have the potential to contribute to volunteer computing,” Cooney said.

Intel’s Progress through Processors Application has collectively contributed over 143,000 gigaflops of computing time since its launch in August 2009. Its processing power is divided among Climateprediction.net and medical research efforts.

There are currently 30-40 thousand active participants, and the application grid’s computing power would rank it on the top 50 of all top 500 super computers in the world, Cooney said.

“Currently Progress Thru Processors is only available for PC and Mac but that is not to say that it won't someday be ported to additional devices,” Cooney said. Intel has already leveraged social media, including Facebook, in an effort to solicit new recruits.

I believe that the shift to a post PC world where basic stuff -- like checking e-mail and browsing the Web – happens on smart devices is already happening. Intel has a good track record in volunteer computing, and I take it at its word that it will expand the program’s reach.

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David Worthington

Contributing Editor

David Worthington has written for BetaNews, eWeek, PC World, Technologizer and ZDNet. Formerly, he was a senior editor at SD Times. He holds a business degree from Temple University. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure