Cryptocurrency craze is hampering search for extraterrestrial life
The Seti@Home project, a scientific project hosted by UC Berkeley that uses public resource computing to analyze radio telescope signals, says their plans to expand operations have been scuppered by the short supply of crucial computer components.
"That's limiting our search for extraterrestrials, to try to answer the question, 'Are we alone? Is there anybody out there?'" Dan Werthimer, chief scientist at the Berkeley search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) Research Center, told the BBC.
GPU’s (graphics processing units) are high-performance chips used by radio astronomers, video gamers and, most recently, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency miners. This has reportedly caused an increase in demand and a shortage of supply.
"This is a new problem, it's only happened on orders we've been trying to make in the last couple of months," Werthimer added.
The cost of high-end GPUs purchased by the group has doubled in the midst of cryptocurrency fever, from $1,000 to $2,000, Werthimer told RT.
It was reported last month that the increase in demand for GPUs for cryptocurrency mining helped boost sales for manufacturers Nvidia and AMD in 2017. However, Nvidia said it was not happy with the rise in prices, urging retailers to ensure the needs of gamers were met before cryptocurrency miners.
Now it seems the impact of cryptocurrency mining has possibly delayed the search for alien life. Dr. Seth Shostak, senior astronomer, at the Seti Institute told RT.com that he believes GPUs are key to extraterrestrial discoveries.
“When people ask ‘so when are you going to find ET?’ the answer I give is to say that it depends largely on computer power. The greater the amount of computer capability we have, the faster we can check out star systems for signals,” Shostak said.
Seti Berkley’s work involves monitoring several frequency channels, which requires a lot of computing power. For some telescopes, SETI uses around 100 GPUs crunching data from large listening arrays.
The majority of the GPUs are used by volunteers in their homes all over the world, providing unprecedented computing power, according to Werthimer.
Cryptocurrency mining involves connecting computers to a global network and using them to solve complex mathematical puzzles. It has led to a massive surge in electricity consumption.
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