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This may seem to be an odd, confusing question, so I will first explain what this means:

Cloud computing allows all people to share their computer's unused processing power to a number of projects with almost no effort or cost to themselves. For example, the World Community Grid allows one to donate processing time to cancer research, clean energy research, fighting AIDS, and numerous other projects. Other projects through other organizations include searching for life outside of our solar system.


So my question is, since it would have no noticeable affect on one's computer and would use a trivial amount of power when the computer is used anyway, is it unethical to NOT do this?

The inspiration for this question comes primarily from Engel's Day Old Bread argument against beef (you may see Engel's Day Old Bread argument here on page 10).

  • This isn't a forum where anyone can post his opinions (see blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/09/good-subjective-bad-subjective). So, this question in its current state isn't a good fit, because it invites opinion-based answers. For a discussion on this topic, see meta.philosophy.stackexchange.com/q/2820/2953. For more information about the SE format, see the help center or the tour. In any case, please edit your question to be less opinion-inviting. Thanks! – user2953 Dec 5 '15 at 16:55
  • @Keelan I was worried that may be the concern. I'm not sure how else to word this. I think it is, I would like to argue that it is, so I am curious what others philosophers might have to say about this. – zagadka314 Dec 5 '15 at 18:01
  • This is like asking, is it unethical not to donate money to charity. After all, you probably have some money that you are not using. Whether, and how much, you donate is for you to decide. As to unused processing power, modern processors conserve power when they are not processing, so if you allow your computer to participate in a grid, you are definitely donating electricity, so there is a financial and environmental cost. This is why, incidentally, it is not worth trying to mine bitcoins with a standard computer - the cost of the electricity is greater than the expected value of the coins. – Bumble Dec 5 '15 at 18:59
  • @Bumble That is an interesting point, though the costs are trivial in most cases. I disagree on the bitcoin mining bit, I find that to be an inaccurate comparison. There is no reason to assume that the research done is worth less than the energy invested. For one, I happen to rely on resistance heat to keep my room warmer than the rest of the house and that means running a computer in the winter gives both the heat and processing power. – zagadka314 Dec 5 '15 at 21:47
  • Supercomputers need massive cooling systems and aren't exactly the most efficient so I doubt many computers would result in more emissions than a supercomputer, per FLOP. Then you have to factor in that you need to build an entire supercomputer and building to house it, while these computers are already there. – zagadka314 Dec 5 '15 at 21:51
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"Unused processor time" equals "non-wasted electricty". A computer is a machine that turns electrical power into computations. This kind of donation has a strong negative impact on the environment. And it is likely that your computer at home is not the most efficient at turning power into computations.

It is quite likely that a project using computational power that it isn't paying for is therefore quite inefficient at using that power, since there is no reason to improve efficiency. Projects that have to pay for computational power are likely to make better use of it.

The argument that the amount of power used would be trivial is absolutely wrong. As an example, some laptops are designed to run 10 hours on a 60 Wh battery charge, but can draw easily 60 Watts of power running at full speed. Asking for ethical decisions while supplying incorrect information is highly unethical.

  • Newer processors are very efficient. At max power, my laptop will use only an extra ~30W and I have a reasonably powerful i5 processor. That is less than a kWh for even a full day. If I use my laptop 10 hours a day (EXTREMELY generous number), that is only 300 extra Wh, and on 100% coal (worst case), that is only 0.6 pounds of CO2. This is not a "strong negative impact" of using the system. – zagadka314 Dec 5 '15 at 21:31
  • You ASSUME that because the group doesn't pay for it, they will abuse it, but that does NOT follow. For one, it takes longer to process something that is less efficient to process, so they have a STRONG motive for efficiency. – zagadka314 Dec 5 '15 at 21:35
  • You have definitely made me realize I need to revise the question as my question itself makes assumptions and is too broad. Perhaps you could give a suggestion? – zagadka314 Dec 5 '15 at 21:55
  • @zagadka314: That means your laptop isn't very powerful. You don't have "strong negative impact" because you are not donating a lot of power. – gnasher729 Dec 7 '15 at 21:48
  • @zagadka314: I don't ASSUME. I have personal experience in that matter. – gnasher729 Dec 7 '15 at 21:50

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