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Demand for cryptocurrency hinders search for E.T.

SETI is struggling to extend its operations without sufficient GPUs. (Source: Metro)
SETI is struggling to extend its operations without sufficient GPUs. (Source: Metro)
The well-known worldwide shortage of GPUs has had an unexpected knock-on effect: It has temporarily hampered the search for aliens. Scientists working for SETI are having problems trying to purchase new GPUs which are used in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

It’s not just gamers complaining about the current lack of Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 chips or the general paucity of AMD’s Radeon RX 580. Apparently, the high demand for GPUs by cryptocurrency miners worldwide has also affected the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, better known as SETI. Unlike Bitcoin-seeking Russian nuclear scientists, SETI actually uses its supercomputers for scientific research work and is looking to upgrade its hardware components. The Berkeley SETI Research Center uses about 100 GPUs alone to deal with incoming data from the large listening arrays at its disposal (or Californian radio-astronomers just like playing Destiny 2 at work but don’t want to admit it).

Global demand for GPUs by individuals and companies involved in virtual currency mining is unlikely to decrease while the desire for cryptocurrency investment is strong. Nvidia and AMD do offer GPUs specifically for use in digital currency mining (such as the Mining P106 and Mining RX 470, respectively) but SETI chiefs are still bemoaning the fact that vendors just aren’t offering enough units at present.

Until the GPU issue is satisfactorily solved, the world will just have to hope that now is not the time that E.T. finally decides to return our calls. With a bit of luck, aliens will be busy mining Litecoin anyway.


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Daniel R Deakin, 2018-02-14 (Update: 2018-02-14)