October 9, 2000
by Clive Thompson
Vol. 142 No. 8, Special Issue

What if you could get all the computers on the Net to work together? That's the idea driving Adam Beberg, a visionary in "distributed computing," which links computers online to process tasks cooperatively. Most computers are usually dormant, but if you can get some of them to use those wasted cycles to work on a single task, you've essentially created a supercomputer. In 1997, Beberg proved this point by cracking a message encoded with RSA Labs' 56-bit encryption algorithms. The project linked 26,000 computers, processing seven billion instructions per second--and breaking the code in 212 days. Now he's releasing Cosm, software that lets anyone create distributed networks. As more computers link up with always-on broadband, Beberg says, the potential for distributed computing is growing exponentially: "It completely changes the scale of what you think you can do."

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