We have two resources we waste a lot, in the civilized world: computing power, and our cranial circuitry.
For every person with a fulfilling job that makes them excited to get out of bed every morning, there are ten working a job they hate to pay the bills, pay off their college education, and maybe hopefully launch their dreams at some point. In addition, we command computers that ten years ago scientists would have viewed as professional-grade research devices.
We use them to gripe about politics on Facebook and look at boobs.
But why waste your education and that expensive hunk of silicon sitting in front of you? While you’re waiting for your boss to find some actual work for you to do, you could advance humankind by goofing off. Here’s how:
Phylo, run by McGill University, is a puzzle game where you simply align colored blocks to match up. Leave as few gaps as possible, and try and align them within the set time.
Sound simple? It is, but it gets crazy fast. How is it helping? You’re actually doing Multiple Sequence Alignments: that is, you’re comparing, say, the DNA of a chimp to the DNA of a human being. This is incredibly expensive and complex on supercomputers that don’t even deliver good results.
People clowning around at work do a way better job. They can also spot mutations and other possible issues. In short, you’re advancing biology. And getting paid for it.
Whale FM is an audio matching game: you listen to a recorded whale call, and try to find where other calls match.
So how the heck does this help? It lets scientists determine the migratory movements of whales, and how, precisely, they communicate.
Also, the songs are pretty. If your boss asks, just tell him you’re really getting into the New Agey stuff, and offer him a crystal. He’ll never talk to you about it again.
This one, one of the most famous “distributed computing” projects, doesn’t even need you to do anything: it just runs as a screensaver or as a background program.
But it’s invaluable: SETI has a lot of data to crunch, and the more we pitch in, the more carefully and finely it can crunch it. In other words, you might be the guy who finds proof of alien life that can build a radio transmitter.
Or just get pranked, but still.