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Cryptocurrency Mining Is Stopping Us From Finding Aliens, Critics Claim

Last Updated March 4, 2021 5:04 PM
Josiah Wilmoth
Last Updated March 4, 2021 5:04 PM

Over the years, cryptocurrency critics have unleashed a barrage of attacks on the nascent technology. Now, though, it seems that they are reaching the bottom of the barrel.

This latest assault comes from researchers at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI) and other similar institutions, who complain that they are having trouble acquiring the resources they need to expand operations at their observatories.

The culprit? — a computer chip shortage caused by soaring demand among cryptocurrency miners.

“We’d like to use the latest GPUs [graphics processing units]… and we can’t get ’em,” SETI researcher Dan Werthimer told the BBC . “This is a new problem, it’s only happened on orders we’ve been trying to make in the last couple of months.”

Although Bitcoin and other coins that run on ASIC-compatible hashing algorithms can no longer be mined profitably with GPUs, many networks — most notably Ethereum — remain ASIC-resistant and are thus most effectively mined with the same chips that are used for gaming and other general-purpose applications.

As CCN.com has reported, cryptocurrency mining-related GPU demand has soared in recent months and does not appear to have been substantively affected by the recent market correction. The resulting GPU shortage has incurred the wrath of gamers, and chip manufacturers AMD and Nvidia have seen their share prices soar even as they struggle to keep up with demand.

But, it seems, gamers aren’t the GPU boom’s only victims.

SETI, as well as other observatories searching for alien life, depend on GPUs to scan data from listening arrays in an attempt to intercept extraterrestrial communications.

“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?” explained Dr. Werthimer, who is chief scientist at the Berkeley SETI Research Center.

Lately, though, these radio-astronomers have been forced to pay exorbitant premiums to acquire new chips — if they can find them at all.

“That’s limiting our search for extra-terrestrials, to try to answer the question, ‘Are we alone? Is there anybody out there?’,” Werthimer complained.

Of course, demand for GPUs will likely decrease as Bitmain and other cryptocurrency mining hardware manufacturers develop ASICs for more Proof-of-Work (PoW) hashing algorithms and Ethereum begins its transition to Proof-of-Stake (PoS).

For now, though, it seems that the search for alien life has hit a wall — a buy wall.

Featured image from Shutterstock.