Is running Folding@home / Rosetta@home beneficial?

post by orenmn · 2019-07-29T07:09:17.003Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · EA · GW · 7 comments

This is a question post.

Two weeks ago, I found out about Folding@home, and have been running it since then.

Today I finally got around to googling it a bit (exam period is over), and here is what I found:

So what do you think? Is running Folding@home beneficial? Is running Rosetta@home more beneficial? Or maybe running either is harmful?



Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2019-07-31T22:54:08.469Z · score: 10 (7 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Rather than get into the details, I'll make the meta-level point that the impact of your action here is likely to be very small in one direction or another.

At best, you are one more computer in a network of millions*; at worst, you've added a tiny amount of pollution to the air, which might take a few minutes to an hour off of humanity's collective lifespan, if we stick to Gwern's reasoning -- you might waste more human life in the course of spending time to install the software than you would actually running the program.

Meanwhile, the "indirect costs" are based mostly on money you could otherwise donate to charity, a consideration which could come up every time you spend money on anything (and which is generally better to ignore unless you're making a big spending decision; I wouldn't worry about $10/year).

Given the complexity of the issue (e.g. trying to calculate your computer's extra electricity usage, evaluating the expected value of papers produced through FAH), I would recommend against trying to make a serious calculation of your impact. As with many questions people ask in EA spaces, "don't worry about it" is a reasonable answer.


*There are only about 100,000 machines in the FAH network right now, but many of those were designed specifically for high-performance computation; I'd be unsurprised if an average home machine contributed one-millionth or less of the project's processing power.

comment by anonymous_ea · 2019-08-01T17:00:10.099Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I agree that the impact of this decision is likely to be very small, but trying to analyze a complicated phenomenon can be personally beneficial for improving your skills at analyzing the impact of other phenomenon. In general, it seems good for EAs to practice analyzing the impact of various interventions, as long as they keep in mind that the impact of the intervention and the direct value of the analysis might be small.

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2019-08-01T23:33:29.629Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

This might be the case, though if someone has the time to analyze a complicated phenomenon and wants to get practice, I think they should take a bit more time to choose a phenomenon to start with, so that they can get one with other useful characteristics. For example, they might try to find something with a larger expected magnitude of impact, positive or negative, or to choose a question that is of direct relevance to the EA community (e.g. something which is an active topic of debate, or involves some very common thing many people in EA do).

Along those lines, I like Gwern's study of melatonin, which involves a bit of self-experimentation but also expected-value calculations. Various other productivity tools/strategies could also be solid candidates.

comment by Milan_Griffes · 2019-08-02T01:48:10.948Z · score: 1 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

cf. Gwern's study of catnip.

Also Luke's post on Scaruffi:

Sometimes I do blatantly useless things so I can flaunt my rejection of the often unhealthy “always optimize” pressures within the effective altruism community. So today, I’m going to write about rock music criticism.
comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2019-08-02T03:44:37.211Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I certainly don't endorse "always optimize"! I spend far too much time reading manga and trying to win Magic: the Gathering tournaments for that. I fully endorse analyzing things that are interesting/entertaining. But it seems bad to get stuck with something that is both low-expected-impact and low-interest. Someone who really likes Folding@Home should totally give the analysis a go; someone who doesn't care and just wants evaluation practice has many other options.

comment by anonymous_ea · 2019-07-31T15:24:40.068Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Since this post has gotten very little traction, I wanted to let you (orenmn) know that at least I found it valuable and interesting!

comment by orenmn · 2019-08-01T09:11:13.353Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you :)