Many experts, both in industry and in the academic community, predict that in the near future, information appliances - devices for retrieving information from the Internet which are as easy to use as everyday appliances such as TVs and VCRs - will become commonplace[19,20]. In the United States today, companies such as WebTV are starting to develop and sell information appliances, and cable companies are starting to include support for cable modems, using the same cable that carries the TV signals. It is not hard to imagine that within the next five or ten years, the information appliance will be as commonplace as the VCR, and high-speed Internet access as commonplace as cable TV.
This brings up an interesting possibility: why not use volunteer computing to harness the power of all these information appliances? Even if an information appliance is not as powerful as a desktop PC, the sheer number of them, potentially in the tens of millions (i.e., the number of people with cable TV), can make up for it. Aside from their great size, these networks-of-information-appliances, or NOIAs, have many interesting features.
NOIAs can be contract-based. Cable or ISP companies can agree on a contract with their clients that would require clients to leave their information appliance boxes on and connected to the network 24 hours a day, running Java applets in the background when the user is idle. In exchange, the clients would receive compensation in the form of discounts or premium services. In addition to the option of not participating, clients may also be given a choice of different kinds of computations they can participate in (e.g., charitable or worthy causes, commercial computations, etc.).
NOIAs also have the advantage of being easier to program and administer than other kinds of volunteer networks. Hardware-based cryptographic devices can make NOIAs secure, by preventing malicious volunteers from forging messages or modifying the applet code that they are given to execute. Also since users leave their information appliances on all the time, NOIAs are stable - the chance of a particular node leaving a NOIA is smaller than that in other kinds of volunteer networks. NOIAs composed purely of information appliances using the same type of processor are also homogenous. All these properties lessen the need for adaptive parallelism and fault-tolerance (see Sect.4.1), and allows greater efficiency and more flexibility in the range of problems that a NOIA can solve.
While actual NOIAs may not be feasible right now, it is useful to keep them in consideration. Techniques developed for the other forms of volunteer computing (especially forced volunteer computing) are likely to be applicable to NOIAs when their time comes.