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E.T. can’t phone home. Blame it on cryptocurrency miners.

A group of scientists on the lookout for alien life says its search for extraterrestrials (ETs) is facing a stiff challenge because of the growing demand for cryptocurrencies and the associated mining activities.

The UC Berkeley [email protected] project is experiencing a shortage of vital computer parts, which is affecting its operations. Dan Werthimer, chief scientist of Berkeley SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), told the BBC:

"That's limiting our search for extraterrestrials, to try to answer the question, 'Are we alone? Is there anybody out there?'"

The [email protected] project relies on public resource computing to study radio telescope signals. Compounding the problem is spiking demand for high-performance graphics processing units (GPUs), which are used by radio astronomers, video gamers, and now cryptocurrency miners. This strong demand has resulted in supply shortages, the group complains.  

"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.

In January, a report said that the price of graphics cards had risen exponentially from $500 to more than $1,000. Highly sought-after GPUs like the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti are currently retailing for $1,350 despite having MSRP (manufacturer suggested retail price) of about $700. AMD Radeon RX Vega 64 sells for $1,500 on the retail market, or more than 300% above its $500 MRSP.

Nvidia itself issued a statement to voice disappointment over the rise in GPU prices and urged retailers to meet the needs of gamers first before catering to the demands of digital currency miners.

The company told the German website Computerbase.de:

“For NVIDIA, gamers come first. All activities related to our GeForce product line are targeted at our main audience. To ensure that GeForce gamers continue to have good GeForce graphics card availability in the current situation, we recommend that our trading partners make the appropriate arrangements to meet gamers’ needs as usual.”

According to Werthimer, the search for alien life requires massive computing power as the work involves monitoring multiple frequency channels. He went on to add:

"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 communicatio n are they using? That takes a lot of computing power."

But with crypto mining on a steady rise, scientists fear a delay in getting an answer to the question of whether we are alone in the universe or not.