The smartphone has become the digital Swiss Army Knife of modern life. Beyond making phone calls, it takes pictures and videos, facilitates purchases, connects us to our social networks, helps us navigate around town and runs applications for almost any imaginable purpose — including one you couldn’t imagine.
Today’s smartphone is a high-powered microcomputer; incredibly, now all that computing power is being harnessed collectively for the greater good, in the search of a cure for the Zika virus.
Most of us walking around with these mini-miracles in our pockets and purses cannot imagine life without them — so much so that it prompted President Obama recently to suggest that we might even be “fetishizing” them. But he might want to rethink that with news of the #OpenZika project.
The research project, spearheaded by IBM’s World Community Grid, is a tech platform that turns a network of volunteers’ personal computers, as well as Android smartphones and tablets, into a virtual supercomputer.
Volunteers who download the World Community Grid app authorize researchers to run calculations on their devices, running virtual experiments on compounds that could become components in creating an antiviral drug to combat the mosquito-borne virus.
There are roughly 2.6 billion smartphones in use around the world, and an additional 1.4 billion smartphones are sold every year, according to Consumer Technology Association research. In many developed economies, there are more smartphones than people, and ownership rates are growing even in the most remote corners of the world.
Smartphones are so popular they continue to erode landline ownership, which has dropped to roughly 50 percent of American households. They have also sidelined millions of digital cameras, a device owned by 80 percent of Americans as recently as 2011. Today, only 61 percent of us own digital cameras. We are quickly and enthusiastically migrating our offline and online activities to our smartphones.