One Billion Years of Memory

Last week ran a clip of this post from Nanowerk (a more complete report will be available here June 10th):

“A new experimental computer memory device that can store 1 terabyte per square inch… with an estimated lifetime of more than one billion years has been developed by Alex Zettl of UC Berkeley and colleagues.”

This is possible through a series of lab tests and theoretical studies that show the device has “temperature stability in excess of one billion years,” an estimate that appears to be the maximum thermal read on the life of the device.

The first thought I had on reading this, aside from Douglas Adams’s “Deep Thought” (the computer that takes several million years to solve the riddle to life, the universe and everything), were the words of Jeff Rothenberg: “Digital documents last forever—or five years, whichever comes first.” Even several decades is an accomplishment. The article itself gives a nod to the virtues of paper by way of William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book, a model of data preservation. The Domesday Book has lasted 900 years compared to its digital counterpart, recently expired at twenty.

But this puts a lot of interesting questions to the issue of the digital dark age: how would we carry out the task of movage, porting data from one medium to the next as new systems appear? And how to avoid the billion-year legacy system from hell?

It also says a lot about us. Like the old joke in Austin Powers, the numbers in which we traffic have spiked over the past half century. Where one million used to do the trick, one billion commands attention and is now much more attractive. The range of numbers we tend to see as audacious but imaginable–though we have a hard time grasping them at all–are in the billions and now low trillions. This is the language of hard drives, moguls, world population and public debt. It is a language already on our minds.

Now if only someone would frame this billion year storage claim as a long bet.

(thanks to @DerekLerner for the original link via twitter)

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

More from Archives

What is the long now?

The Long Now Foundation is a nonprofit established in 01996 to foster long-term thinking. Our work encourages imagination at the timescale of civilization — the next and last 10,000 years — a timespan we call the long now.

Learn more

Join our newsletter for the latest in long-term thinking

Long Now's website is changing...