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posted by Fnord666 on Thursday February 15 2018, @04:43PM   Printer-friendly
from the just-nod-if-you-can-hear-me dept.

Crypto-currency craze 'hinders search for alien life'

Scientists listening out for broadcasts by extra-terrestrials are struggling to get the computer hardware they need, thanks to the crypto-currency mining craze, a radio-astronomer has said.

Seti (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) researchers want to expand operations at two observatories. 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," said Dan Werthimer.

Demand for GPUs has soared recently thanks to crypto-currency mining. "That's limiting our search for extra-terrestrials, to try to answer the question, 'Are we alone? Is there anybody out there?'," Dr Werthimer told the BBC.

[...] Other radio-astronomers have been affected. A group looking for evidence of the earliest stars in the universe was recently shocked to see that the cost of the GPUs it wanted had doubled.

[...] Prof [Aaron] Parsons' radio telescope, the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionisation Array (Hera), is an American, British and South African project located in South Africa's western plains. [...] Three months ago, the Hera team had budgeted for a set of GPUs that cost around $500 (£360) - the price has since doubled to $1,000.

"We'll be able to weather it but it is coming out of our contingency budget." added Prof Parsons. "We're buying a lot of these things, it's going to end up costing about $32,000 extra."

When the inevitable flood of cheap GPUs onto the market happens, will it be a boon to science?


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  • (Score: 2) by unauthorized on Thursday February 15 2018, @11:55PM (1 child)

    by unauthorized (3776) on Thursday February 15 2018, @11:55PM (#638541)

    Incorrect. SETI is not listening just for information radio signals, they are looking for distinctive radio patterns that suggest engineered origin. Many high energy processes emit all across the spectrum as a byproduct and can easily be detected by a project like SETI.

    However, *we* don't do this ourselves.

    We are a mere K0.6-K0.8 civilization and the energy we have available is tiny. To a hypothetical K2 civilization, the total artificial energy our civilization uses 0.000000000004% of their energy budget. Such a civilization could afford energetic processes that we could't even begin to dream of - mass production of antimatter, engineering artificial blackholes, accelerating planetoid-sized objects to appreciable fractions of c, building Dyson spheres and even star lifting.

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  • (Score: 2) by Grishnakh on Friday February 16 2018, @05:08AM

    by Grishnakh (2831) on Friday February 16 2018, @05:08AM (#638671)

    Such a civilization could afford energetic processes that we could't even begin to dream of - mass production of antimatter, engineering artificial blackholes, accelerating planetoid-sized objects to appreciable fractions of c, building Dyson spheres and even star lifting.

    And how many of these processes are going to create signals we can detect?

    More importantly, why do we expect to find K2 civilizations? K1 and ~K0.5 ones like ours are probably much more common, and perhaps there's little real incentive for a civilization to try to build the technology necessary to harness an entire star's energy, rather than just living in artificial reality. Assuming there's a bunch of K2 civilizations out there, which is really almost godlike to us, and not even something most of our sci-fi speculates on, seems like a pretty silly thing to assume and base an entire research program on.