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Scientists listening out for broadcasts by extra-terrestrials are fighting to get the laptop 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 pc chips are ter brief supply.
“Wij’d like to use the latest GPUs [graphics processing units]. and wij can’t get ’em,” said Dan Werthimer.
Request for GPUs has soared recently thanks to crypto-currency mining.
“That’s limiting our search for extra-terrestrials, to attempt to response the question, ‘Are wij alone? Is there anybody out there?’,” Dr Werthimer told the Big black cock.
“This is a fresh problem, it’s only happened on orders wij’ve bot attempting to make ter the last duo of months.”
Mining a currency such spil Bitcoin or Ethereum involves connecting computers to a global network and using them to solve ingewikkeld mathematical puzzles.
This forms part of the process of validating transactions made by people who use the currency.
Spil a prize for this work, the miners receive a petite crypto-currency payment, making it potentially profitable.
GPUs are high-performance chips and aren’t just used for powering movie games – they may be stacked together by Bitcoin miners, radio-astronomers or others interested ter processing large amounts of gegevens for certain applications.
“At Seti wij want to look at spil many frequency channels spil wij possibly can because wij don’t know what frequency ET will be broadcasting on and wij 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 loterijlot of computing power.”
He added that, at some telescopes, Berkeley Seti has around 100 GPUs crunching gegevens from large listening arrays.
Thesis arrays can pick up the faintest of radio frequencies that have bot flung across our solar system from elsewhere te the universe – often from natural phenomena such spil collapsing starlets.
The Seti scientists are presently attempting to improve their capacity for analysing such gegevens at two observatories – Green Canap te Westelijk Virginia and Parkes te Australia.
But they have bot klapper by the GPU shortage.
“Wij’ve got the money, wij’ve contacted the vendors, and they say, ‘Wij just don’t have them’,” said Dr Werthimer.
Earlier this year, there were reports that movie gamers had bot kasstuk by a unexpected rise ter the cost of GPUs, thanks ter particular to a rise te Ethereum mining, which can be done with chips aimed at consumers.
At the time, major chip-maker Nvidia said that retailers should make arrangements to make sure gamers’ requests were met.
Te a conference call last week, Nvidia’s chief executive told investors the company wasgoed “working indeed hard” to “catch up with supply” and get GPUs to the marketplace.
Other radio-astronomers have bot affected.
A group looking for evidence of the earliest starlets ter the universe wasgoed recently shocked to see that the cost of the GPUs it dreamed had doubled.
“Wij’re te the process of expanding our telescope – wij got a grant from the National Science Foundation here ter the United States to do so,” said Aaron Parsons at the University of California at Berkeley.
Prof Parsons’ radio telescope, the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionisation Array (Hera), is an American, British and South African project located te South Africa’s western plains.
It has bot designed to listen to low frequency radio sways emitted by the reionising hydrogen gas that permeated the universe before the very first starlets and galaxies formed.
GPUs are needed ter order to bring together gegevens from Hera’s many puny radio telescopes – this synthesises a much larger array, suggesting an especially broad field of view peering out into the universe.
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.
“Wij’ll be able to weather it but it is coming out of our contingency budget.” added Prof Parsons.
“Wij’re buying a loterijlot of thesis things, it’s going to end up costing about $32,000 reserve.”
He also said he wasgoed worried that future work could even be stopped te its tracks, should the GPU shortage worsen.
Mining’s meteoric rise
Thanks ter part to a latest boom te the price of crypto-currencies such spil Bitcoin and Ethereum, mining crypto-currencies has never bot more popular.
While Bitcoin miners have largely moved on to specialised “Asic” chips that have bot designed from scrape to support mining, it’s still possible to use GPUs on the Ethereum mining network to lucrative finishes, according to cyber-security experienced Matthew Hickey at Hacker House.
“[You can] use GPUs effectively to turn a puny profit, you’re not going to make millions but if you waterput 12 or 24 GPUs together, you’ll make back the cost ter six months,” he told the Big black cock.
GPUs are versatile, he added, pointing out that cyber-security experts sometimes use them for password-cracking experiments, ter which computers make many millions of attempts at cracking into a system.
But Mr Hickey has also noticed that GPUs are now being sold on sites such spil Ebay at inflated prices.
“It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find suppliers and cards,” he said.