Despite what the headline may suggest, aliens have not suddenly appeared and started a war with Bitcoin exchanges. The latest bout of cryptocurrency mining has caused the likes of SETI to experience a shortage of the GPUs they need to process their data.
In recent times, cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin and other altcoins have seen significant uptrends, particularly Bitcoin which went up by over 770 per cent in the last year. This has resulted in more publicity and thus more people aiming to mine Bitcoin. This, however, requires a lot of energy.
Enter the graphics processing unit (GPU). GPUs can be used alone or together to massively increase the computing power they have. The more power you have, the more mining you can do, and the more mining you can do, the more crypto you can get.
Unfortunately, the pursuit of crypto has resulted in a dearth of GPUs.
“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?” said Dr Werthimer, the chief scientist at the Berkeley Seti Research Centre.
At some telescopes there are 100 GPUs processing the data. But recently SETI has been unable to purchase GPUs. “We’ve got the money, we’ve contacted the vendors, and they say, ‘we just don’t have them’,” Dr Werthimer added.
Video gamers have also been affected by the sudden rise in price for the units, mainly due to the increase in Ether’s popularity. Nvidia said that retailers should ensure gamers’ demands are met.
Some have expressed their concern that if the GPU shortage continues, future work could be stopped altogether.