People produce 2.5 billion gigabytes of data every day. Some of them are deleted, but statistically we produce more and more data every year. It takes more and more energy to maintain them. Soon we can reach the maximum of our possibilities. Is there an information catastrophe? Not so fast, but …
According to a recent article published in AIP Advances by Dr. Melvin Vopson from the University of Portsmouth, if we assume that every year the amount of stored data will increase by 20 percent, then in 350 years there will be more bits of information than atoms on Earth. It’s hard to imagine? Then let’s go a bit further. By around 2320, all digital infrastructure will require more energy than the entire planet is used today. All this, of course, assuming that electronic components will be more and more energy-efficient from one generation to the next.
Sooner or later we will touch the border
According to calculations based on the principle of the equivalence of mass and energy, in 500 years the digital data stored on Earth will reach a mass equal to half of the present mass of the Earth. Interestingly, only 188 years from now, the mass of all bits stored on all media and data centers on Earth will be 1 kg.
This means that you have to wait a long time for the first kilogram, but then from year to year the amount of collected data, and thus their mass, will accelerate significantly.
If we assume a higher growth rate in the amount of information produced, e.g. 50 percent, then the first kilogram of data bits will be on Earth in 2070, and in 2245 information will occupy half the mass of the Earth. It’s kind of scary.
In his work, Vopson predicts that at some point the world will reach a limit where it will no longer be able to store more information. He calls this point a singularity.
Artificial intelligence is not threatening us yet
It has long been predicted that at some point in technological development, artificial intelligence will become "smarter" and that humans will overcome their limitations of pure biology with its help. It is worth noting, however, that the world of science is divided on this issue.
While Elon Musk, for example, warns of the dangers of the rapid development of AI, many scientists argue that this is an imaginary topic, because one thing is the speed of information processing, and another is awareness, which in the case of AI could be a problem. Many leading scientists argue that we have not even come close to overtaking any simple organisms in this respect.
On the other hand, forecasts of the amount of information processed are very realistic. Currently, the most modern and most efficient carriers for each bit of information need a cell with a size of 25 nm. That’s 250 times the diameter of an atom. Even if over time we manage to reduce these sizes and bring them closer to one atom, sooner or later we will need more atoms to store information than there are on Earth.
It will be terrible. Unless we make a breakthrough
Here, however, it should be noted that similar visions of an imminent end are not new. How many visions there were in the world saying that the growing transport needs would lead to the fact that the streets would run down with horse droppings. However, no one then foresaw the arrival of the internal combustion engine.
We can see the limitations of the technologies used today by analogy. However, these boundaries may disappear if scientists bring about a breakthrough in the next several dozen or several hundred years of development. So far, breakthroughs have come about when humanity forced itself to do so. I am convinced that, if necessary, it will suddenly turn out that information can be stored differently and much more efficiently. In this way, once again, we will postpone the apocalypse by several centuries.
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In 350 years, there will be more bits of information than atoms on Earth. We produce too much information