"SETI@Home," if you
haven't heard about it, is a screensaver (for both Mac and Windows) developed by the
people in the SETI (Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence) team at the University of
California-Berkeley. You download
the program (free) and let it exist on your computer as a screensaver. Whenever you're
not using the computer, the screensaver runs and "borrows" your CPU to analyze a
small chunk of the vast amount of astronomical radio data that the SETI project gets from
the telescope at Arecibo, Puerto Rico.
When finished with one packet of data, your computer
automatically uploads the result to UC-Berkeley and downloads another packet over the
Internet. Don't worry -- it never interferes with your own work. SETI@Home is the first
example of globally shared computer resources on a huge scale. There are over 2,000,000
people involved, and 333,600 YEARS of computer time logged. At the
SETI@Home site, you can also find all kinds of information about these users and computers
From those statistics, it occurred to me, one could
extrapolate some revealing information about global computer usage generally. Gathered in
the table below is my fourth (and long overdue) update.
You'll find explanations and comments after the table.
Note: The above rankings are based on
statistics from SETI on July 12, 2000. For statistical reasons, Countries (territories)
with less than 200,000 in population, or fewer than 80 SETI users, or fewer than 4,000
completed packets are excluded. As a result, this report covers 102 countries (out of
225), which processed 99.7% of total packets received.
"HIGHEST COMPUTER OWNERSHIP"
is the percentage of SETI users in a given countrys population. Eastern European and
South American countries are the ones that are advancing most rapidly in this category.
The category could maybe be more accurately labeled: "Highest Computer Ownership by
open-minded people with Internet access."
Eye-balling the list, you may notice that local conditions, such as cold weather, may
affect the ranking as much as industrialization. Language is another deciding factor for
computer ownership. For example, Japan, the second largest economy, ranks only 39th (out
of 102) in this category. The bottom of the ranking is composed mainly of countries using
non-Western languages -- Iran, Vietnam, Pakistan, Indonesia, India, China, etc.
simply represent the least average CPU time for processing a packet of SETI data.
(Fast=new?) Namibia and Ghana are the first African countries to make the top rankings
since we started analyzing the data in 1999. It appears that not only the rich countries
have the best access to high-level technology. You will also notice in the list that
emerging economies, notably many Eastern European countries, are quickly arming themselves
with state-of-the-art computers as well.
The lowest ranking countries in this category are still
predominantly located in South America: Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Venezuela, and
Uruguay. Now I know where those old 486's are going. South America should turn out to be a
gold mine for PC makers -- people there use western alphabets, and, on old computers!
"LOWEST COMPUTER UTILIZATION"
reflects the average time a user spends running the SETI program. Because SETI runs mainly
as a screen saver or in the background, the more time a user allots to SETI, the less she
utilizes her computing power. On average, a user in Namibia spends around 6,000 hours on
SETI (compared to 560 hours in Spain or 1000 hours in U.K.), that's eight straight months
of CPU time, doing nothing but running SETI! Computer education is definitely needed
there, as well as in Estonia, Vietnam, Iran, Latvia, etc.
Interestingly, many of the countries in this list, namely,
Lithuania, Austria, Namibia, Denmark, Iran, also appear in the newest computer list. Hmm.
It looks as if many fast, new computers are doing nothing but SETI-ing. Does this ring a
bell, computer game makers?
Computers in the U.S. and Canada are not much better
utilized, with the U.S. ranking 12th and Canada, 18th. However, those at the bottom,
countries like India, Afghanistan, North Korea, Pakistan, Colombia, Egypt, Turkey, Mexico,
etc., do not necessary utilize their computers better than others do. Quite likely, people
are just more cost-conscious, and simply turn their computers off when they're not doing
something with them.
"MOST COMPUTING POWER"
is straightforward, just the largest number of completed data packets. While the top of
the ranking is predominantly the usual "suspects," two countries, Poland and
Czech Republic, have quietly and steadily advanced in rank and and now, for the first
time, made it into the top 15.
Lastly, the most curious countries are Denmark and Austria,
the only countries which appear in all four lists. It makes you wonder what good it does
for them to have lots of fast new computers, but not to know what to do with them. Who
knows. Maybe the Danes are just too busy eating Danish (so to speak) and the Austrians are
too busy living in their glorious musical past.
How many voices of humor and hope
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Douglas Huang, a
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