If ET is trying to phone Earth, researchers aren’t hearing it, and apparently, it’s all bitcoin’s fault. Researchers with the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, also known as SETI, are complaining that they can’t get their hands on the components they need to help in their quest of finding aliens. It seems that the same high-end GPUs that are used by cryptocurrency miners are also used by SETI, and they’re in short supply as a result.
One of the big stories for AMD’s latest earnings report was how cryptocurrency-related demand may have been boosting average selling prices for the company’s GPUs, and this latest commentary from SETI researchers would seem to support that view. Chief scientist Dan Werthimer of the Berkeley SETI Research Center told the BBC that they want to use “the latest GPUs,” but they can’t get them. As a result, he said that finding aliens has become much harder. He said this issue is actually a relatively new one as only the GPU orders they’ve placed over the last couple months have been affected by the shortage.
SETI researchers spend their time listening to various frequencies from space, hoping to run across sounds that suggest alien life is trying to reach out and touch someone on Earth. Werthimer explained that they need the GPUs so that they can listen to as many different frequency channels as they can because they don’t know which frequency the aliens might broadcast on. Additionally, he said they search for a variety of different types of signals, including both AM and FM and which type of communication they might be using. All that work means that finding aliens requires “a lot of computing power,” he added.
The Berkeley scientist said their SETI location has about 100 GPUs that are all processing data from the facility’s massive listening arrays, which pick up even the smallest radio frequencies from outer space. These frequencies typically come from naturally-occurring phenomena throughout the solar system.
At this time, SETI is trying to boost its capacity for finding aliens at its observatories in Green Bank, West Virginia and Parkes, Australia, but the organization’s vendors are saying that they can’t get the GPUs. SETI isn’t the only group of radio-astronomers affected by the shortage. The National Science Foundation recently got a grant to expand its telescope, only to discover that the price of the GPUs it planned on buying had doubled.
Bitcoin miners are now favoring specialized processors to crunch their data, but miners of and other cryptocurrencies are still using some consumer-focused GPUs, which is causing the shortage.