How cryptocurrency is holding us back from finding life on another planet

Crypto miners are snatching up all the GPUs, which astronomical researchers need to grok their data.

Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
  • Cryptocurrency mining has lead to a strong demand for GPUs, making them harder to obtain for scientific research.
  • The GPU demand brought by crypto mining also affects the gaming market, as PC gamers find it more difficult to find the hardware they need.

The rising popularity of cryptocurrency mining could actually be making it more difficult for astronomers to find life on another planet. According to a recent BBC report, miners are buying up all the available GPUs, making it harder for researchers to get their hands on them.

While GPUs are typically associated with gaming and high-end graphics work, they're also used in high-level research for their ability to quickly analyze large amounts of data (a process also required in cryptomining). However, the popularity of cryptomining has led to GPU shortages, and price increases on the secondary market.

As such, research scientists, data scientists, and others are having a hard time finding the GPUs they need to get their work done. And in the case of astronomical research, the shortage is "limiting our search for extra-terrestrials," Dan Werthimer, chief scientist of SETI, told the BBC.

SEE: Quick glossary: Blockchain (Tech Pro Research)

If you're wondering, SETI stands for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. The group wants to grow its operations at a couple locations (one in West Virginia and one in Australia), the BBC reported, but they can't due to a lack of available GPUs.

SETI would use the GPUs to analyze radio frequency data to try and determine if aliens are sending out any sort of communications. However, the researchers simply aren't able to get what they need.

"We've got the money, we've contacted the vendors, and they say, 'We just don't have them'," Werthimer told the BBC.

What's more is that the difficulty in sourcing the chips has only begun in the last two months or so, according to the report. And it's affecting other researchers as well, such as Aaron Parsons at the University of California at Berkeley, the report noted.

Parsons told the BBC that the rising GPU prices have put the school's work on a radio telescope $32,000 over budget.

Some miners have moved on to ASIC chips, which companies like Samsung have begun producing, but GPUs are still popular. NVIDIA recently spoke out against rising GPU prices and urged vendors to prioritize gamers when selling them, but the company is still working to catch up on the rising demand.

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Image: iStockphoto/ktsimage

About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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