Bitcoin

How Bitcoin Is Ruining The Search For Extraterrestrial Life

Bitcoin

The truth may be out there about whether or not there is intelligent alien life other than ours in the universe.

But, thanks to bitcoin, it is entirely possible we will never know what it is.

According to BBC reports, the radio-astronomers who've built their careers listening for broadcasts from extraterrestrials have run into something of a bitcoin-related snag: They can no longer buy the computer hardware they need, thanks to the bitcoin mining craziness.

SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) researchers would very much like to expand their efforts – but sadly, the very powerful computer hardware they need to do that is in rather short supply, thanks to miners who are snapping it up (and raising its price) so they can use it to solve the complex math puzzles required to release more bitcoin from the blockchain.

However, they have found that key computer chips are in short supply.

“We'd like to use the latest GPUs [graphics processing units] ... and we can't get 'em,” Dr. Dan Werthimer 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 problem, according to the scientists, is new as of the last few months.

“This is a new problem; it's only happened on orders we've been trying to make in the last couple of months,” he noted.

The chips in question are GPUs, which are most commonly associated with powering video games. But they can also be stacked together by anyone interested in processing large amounts of data for very power-intensive applications – like listening for alien transmissions or mining bitcoin, for example.

“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. "That takes a lot of computing power."

And it's power they have the money to buy, Werthimer noted – if only someone would sell them a chip. They can even handle the extremely elevated prices.

That, in some ways, puts SETI ahead of Aaron Parsons' team at the University of California at Berkeley.

"We're in the process of expanding our telescope – we got a grant from the National Science Foundation here in the United States to do so," said Parsons, associate professor of astronomy. The problem is, they built their grant around the price of the chips they needed three months ago, and the price of those chips has since tripled.

“We'll be able to weather it, but it is coming out of our contingency budget," added Parsons. “It's going to end up costing about $32,000 extra.”

He also said he was concerned that future work could even be stopped in its tracks, should the GPU shortage worsen.

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