Technology has been advancing faster than ever before. The 1969’s Apollo 11 mission Guidance Computer had 4KB of RAM and 32KB hard disk. Today, an average laptop comes with 8GB of RAM and 500GB of hard disk (or even a solid-state drive!). With all this advancement, the world seems to be moving at an exciting pace. However, with the rise of cryptocurrency mining, and new graphics cards drawing more power, is it genuinely moving towards something better? How much impact do these fancy advancements have on the environment?
The first cryptocurrency was eCash, developed by the company DigiCash in 1990. But cryptocurrency did not gain much popularity until 2009, when the anonymous developer, who goes by the name Satoshi Nakamoto, created Bitcoin. At that time, the rate for one bitcoin was as low as 0.0009 USD. Then, from 2013 to 2017, Bitcoin rose gradually and attracted investors. By 2018, more people hopped in in fear of missing out on the investment, which skyrocketed the price.
Other factors also contributed to the increase, such as the accessibility of trading and creating cryptocurrencies. Cryptocurrency exchanges such as Binance emerged and made it easier for everyone worldwide to start trading. Due to this, others were encouraged to develop their version of cryptocurrencies to profit from the existing publicity. One form of cryptocurrency that rose alongside these events was Dogecoin. It started as a reference to the Doge meme. Its creators, Billy Markus and Jackson Palmer, created it as a joke to make fun of the absurd speculation happening with cryptocurrencies. Plenty of similar cryptocurrencies emerge and disappear daily, which makes the market incredibly volatile. However, what truly tipped the scale was the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. People, especially young millennials, were looking for new ways to invest and seeing how accessible the market was, they hopped in.
Some who started investing in cryptocurrency stayed and traded within the market, while others took the time to start mining Bitcoin themselves. Investopedia, a website dedicated to financial media, described mining a cryptocurrency as “… using sophisticated hardware that solves an extremely complex computational math problem. The first computer to find the solution to the problem receives the next block of Bitcoins, and the process begins again.” Most of these complex math problems are solved using a graphics card, and the more powerful the graphics card is, the faster it can mine.
In mid-2021, the process was drawing so much power from national power grids that governments worldwide, such as China, had to ban crypto trading and mining activities.
Despite the environmental setbacks, cryptocurrency is still a technological advancement as it challenges the fundamental idea of a currency. Cryptocurrencies can provide cheaper and faster money transfers and decentralized systems that do not collapse at a single point of failure. That is because most cryptocurrencies are based on blockchain technology, where information on transactions is digitally recorded, copied, and shared in blocks across the entire network of computer systems. One significant benefit is that it makes it nearly impossible for hackers to steal your data. That is because if hackers tamper one block of the chain, it would be immediately apparent as everyone trading with that cryptocurrency has a copy of the ledger. A hacker would need to hack every block in the chain across every transaction to successfully steal someone’s cryptocurrency, which is an impossible task.
There have also been advancements in the graphics card, one of the critical components required to mine a cryptocurrency. The new RTX 4090 graphics card was inspected by Hilbert Hagedoorn, editor-in-chief of The Guru of 3D. He commented that they have a thermal design power of 450W or above, drawing a plentiful amount of electricity at first glance. However, he concluded that when he measured the RTX 4090, performance per watt proved to be the most efficient graphics card ever created compared to the previous generation models. However, despite being efficient, it is drawing too much power and remains a fire hazard. For instance, there are currently multiple reports that indicate that the native 16-pin power connector of the RTX 4090, which connects the graphic’s card to the power supply unit, melted.
In addition to the hazards, energy prices across Europe and worldwide are surging upward at a ridiculous rate. It seems hard to justify the efficiency of graphic cards from a consumer’s point of view when the efficiency is causing it to draw more power, increasing users’ electricity bills compared to the previous generation of graphic cards.
In conclusion, people with good intentions are trying to make the world a better place for everyone when it comes to technological breakthroughs and innovation. Still, dealing with the volatile cryptocurrency market and the ongoing Europe energy crisis is proving to be a challenge. Despite these setbacks, people are still trying to make improvements, albeit slower. Ethereum, a type of cryptocurrency, changed its mining method to a more sustainable way by going with a proof-of-stake, which claimed to reduce energy consumption by more than 99%. Hopefully, there will be more improvements or innovations moving forward, as, without it, cryptocurrency mining will continue to add to the rising rate of Earth’s temperature. If we don’t consciously decide to change the way we innovate, the other side effects of climate change will only become more devastating.
Illustrator Catherine Lam
Random Access Memory is a short-term memory bank where a computer’s data is stored and accessed. Information that the computer is actively using is usually kept there so that it can be retrieved quickly.
This is an expansion card inside a computer that is responsible for calculating and displaying images to the monitor. They can also do complex calculations for creative purposes, such as video editing to research purposes like Artificial Intelligence. The terms graphics cards and graphics processing units (GPUs) are often used interchangeably.
Solid-state drive (SSD)
Solid-state drive is another computer storage device. They are different from the traditional Hard disk drive (HDD) in that data is stored in flash-based memory, which is faster and arguably more durable than HDDs.
Thermal Design Power (TDP)
Thermal Design Power is often used as a primary power consumption indicator. It refers to the power consumption under the full theoretical load (the maximum heat a computer chip can use in watts).
16-pin power connector
16-pin power connector is a plug that connects the graphics card to the power supply unit. Power from the power supply unit flows to the graphics card using this cable.
Power supply unit (PSU)
A power supply unit is a device that converts alternating current (AC) to direct current (DC). Doing so supplies all other components in a computer with power. It converts the 110-115 volts in the outlet to a steady low-voltage (DC) that the other parts of the computer can use. They are rated by the number of watts they can generate.