Crypto-Currency Is Sabotaging The Search For Alien Life

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Not only is Bitcoin destroying the planet thanks to its insatiable appetite for energy, it could be hindering the hunt for alien life. A radio-astronomer told reporters at the BBC scientists are having a hard time accessing computer hardware because of a surge in crypto-currency mining.

"We'd like to use the latest GPUs [graphics processing units]... and we can't get 'em," Dan Werthimer, chief scientist at the Berkeley Seti (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Research Center, told the BBC.

Seti researchers are hoping to expand activity at two observatories – one in West Virginia (Green Bank) and one in Australia (Parkes) – but these plans are being delayed by the GPU shortage.

GPUs are chips designed to process images, video, and animations for the computer screen but they are increasingly being used for non-graphic tasks that involve a lot of repetitive computing – say, mining for crypto-currency or listening out for alien signals.

"At Seti we want to look at as many frequency channels as we possibly can because we don't know what frequency ET will be broadcasting on and we want to look for lots of different signal types – is it AM or FM, what communication are they using?" Werthimer added.

Unsurprisingly, this sort of thing takes up a lot of computing power. At Berkeley, there are roughly 100 GPUs sifting through the various radio frequencies whizzing through our galaxy at this very moment.

Aaron Parsons, from the University of California at Berkeley, told the BBC his team has plans to expand their radio telescope (the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionisation Array, or HERA) but the GPUs they have had their eyes on doubled in price within just three months.

"We'll be able to weather it but it is coming out of our contingency budget," he said. Parsons estimates the whole thing will cost an additional $32,000 and warns future projects could be put on hold if this trend continues.

Bitcoin has been called, at various points, a “noxious poison”, “the mother of all bubbles”, and “a Ponzi scheme and an environmental disaster”. But, despite recently plummeting in value, it remains popular and it's been estimated that Iceland will consume more energy in Bitcoin mining than in the home in 2018.

Meanwhile, other crypto-currencies are riding the Bitcoin-mania wave. Ethereum, for example. According to cyber-security expert Matthew Hickey, Bitcoin miners are now using special Asic chips but it is still possible to make money in Ethereum using regular GPUs. 

[H/T: BBC]

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