As the world is still reeling from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, people everywhere are doing what they can to support the effort to find vaccines and treatments. Not to be left out, blockchain projects everywhere have rallied together to supply computing power and money in a concerted effort to accelerate research.
What it takes to fight this virus
It shouldn’t be surprising to hear that researching treatments, tending to patients and supplying resources are all expensive work. With the added burden of a global pandemic that is threatening the economy, supply chains and the workforce, donating extra resources when possible has maybe never been more essential. It takes money to keep many of these systems operating, and unfortunately, even with government support, it often isn’t enough.
Then there’s the fact that even with cutting edge computer systems, researchers can still only process so much information hour-by-hour. This is another valuable resource that can be passed along, as across the world, people’s personal computers, as well as those of many institutions, contain massive amounts of computational power waiting to be tapped into.
Finally, there’s data. In order to know as much as possible about the behavior and spread of the virus, medical professionals and crisis responders need as much accurate data as they can get. Fortunately, we live in a world rife with data-capturing potential, and more projects are now working to discover how to utilize this data in ways that don’t pose a threat to user privacy.
The thing about the blockchain world is that many different players in this realm are poised to donate one or all of these forms of support. That’s why we’re going to break down some of the biggest and best efforts currently in the decentralized asset industry to lend help to this global crisis. In addition to what we’ve collected here, know that new programs and funds are being created every week as a means to ease the pressure on the planet right now.
Miners redirect their computing power to help find a cure
It takes vast amounts of raw processing in order to run protein folding simulations that researchers use to look for vaccines and therapies. This is nothing new, and the team behind Folding@Home has been reaching out to computer users around the world for years to donate idle CPU and GPU power toward fighting serious debilitating disorders with no existing cure yet. Obviously, in the wake of recent events, much of their efforts are now focused on recovering from the coronavirus.
Essentially, by using the distributed power from thousands or millions of computers online, researchers can run these complex simulations, which are necessary in order to identify which drugs could be effective against this new threat. It’s arduous work and part of the reason new vaccines can often take years to develop. However, the more computers that are involved in these simulations the faster they can be processed, and this should accelerate us toward effective treatments. In fact, since this crisis began, so many new computers have jumped online that it has been reported that Folding@Home is now effectively the world’s most powerful supercomputer!
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that cryptocurrency miners, who usually employ multiple, high-end GPUs in order to secure their networks and make a profit, are also perfectly suited for helping on this front. While NVIDIA recently put out a call for gamers to begin turning their rigs toward the fight, GPU miners stand to help many times over, especially for the larger operations.
The biggest firm to step up so far has been Ethereum mining firm CoreWeave, which has transferred the computing power of some 6,000 of its miners toward the Folding@Home project. At the time of the transfer, those miners were generating over $3,000 worth of Ether a day, so nobody can say this is a small gesture.
Unfortunately, the popular ASIC miners that are often used for Bitcoin and similar assets are too specifically designed toward cryptocurrency to be used for folding research, which is unfortunate due to the sheer amount of computing power they can muster.
Beyond miners, entire projects are beginning to get involved
It will take more than just cryptocurrency miners to help solve this problem, and now, many prominent projects have taken up the cause as well. To this end, the team behind Cardano has strongly encouraged those securing its network to turn their processing power toward the Folding@Home project, with many lead team members forging the way with their own systems.
In addition, the Tezos community has put out a similar call but sweetened the pot by setting up a humble reward that goes to the community member who provides the most resources to pandemic research. The amount began at just 15 Tezos but has been growing with small donations from the community to further encourage people to shift their processing power during this unprecedented time.
As mentioned earlier, data is another pillar in this fight. Having accurate and recent data is essential for all types of levels of response to the outbreak. Of course, whenever there is talk of data collection, privacy concerns emerge as well. We can look to the blockchain community for answers for both of these problems. Both the Algorand Foundation and Enigma Project have launched community tracking and contact tracing software that is powered by blockchain technology and works to maintain anonymity in terms of the users submitting data. Both are still very much in the works but seek to provide answers that are effective and ethical.
As for monetary support, Ripple announced in March that it would be making $100,000 donations to two different emergency response funds. Similarly, Gitcoin, already a funding platform, has launched a fund-matching round in conjunction with the Ethereum 2.0 team that will match $250,000 in donations toward research projects.
Exchanges stepping up in a big way
Speaking of big money, cryptocurrency exchanges often have large reserves of resources, impressive sway in the community, and they certainly haven’t been afraid to show solidarity. Going as far back as January, major companies like Binance and Huobi were already donating to the relief effort at a time when the virus was still largely centralized inside of China. As the threat grew, so did the response from the industry. In late March, Binance expanded its effort and began a $5-million campaign toward getting aid to the nations that have been hardest hit by this disease.
In a similar vein, popular crypto exchange HitBTC has announced that it has begun a program that will provide support in the form of computing power for blockchain projects that are working toward aiding in the global effort. To this end, they have already partnered with CureCoin, which is itself a project that branched off of the Folding@Home initiative. Obviously, the CureCoin team has now turned much of its attention toward the pandemic.
Furthermore, in late April, BitMEX revealed on its blog that they too would be setting up a “COVID-19 Response Fund,” which will be seeing $2.5 million funneled into four organizations that are working against the pandemic. Specifically, these are Gates Philanthropy Partners, Nuclear Threat Initiative – Biosecurity Program, OpenMined and Our World in Data.
What can the rest of us do?
While most individuals lack the types of resources that have been outlined above, those who can are encouraged to simply follow what these industry leaders have done. One of the simplest ways to contribute is to support the Folding@Home project yourself. This isn’t actually the same as cryptocurrency mining where weaker systems might as well not join in. Even a modest laptop can be of help if it has unused GPU cycles to contribute. So, this is really an “every little bit counts” scenario. With any luck, nerds in the blockchain community could soon be leading the way in at least one venue of this effort.
If you are a trader, consider donating some of your profits to one or more of the various research teams working on this crisis. Maybe you work in crypto-journalism? Then spread the latest and most accurate information available to your peers and followers. Even if you just are somewhat popular on social media, don’t be afraid to spread the word and links for many of the causes outlined above.
Take care of yourself and loved ones first, maintain the levels of hygiene and distancing recommended by health officials, and simply try to stay calm. We’ve been hearing this a lot lately, but whether you’re a blockchain advocate or not, we really are all in this together.
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