Saturday, February 12, 2011

Where Is John Connor? I Require His Genetic Information

A study conducted by the University of Southern California in 2007 attempted to calculate just how much information storage existed in the world at the time. This was done via adding up the information stored on 60 digital and analog media- books, newspapers, computer hard drives, smartphones, magazines, USB drives, CD's, videocassettes, credit card microchips, vinyl long-play records, etc. That study was just released... well, sort of; the full paper is still under embargo at USC.

The amount, as of 2007, turned out to be 295 exabytes of data, only 6% of which was analog. (Not that analog is going away; over the course of the study, which looked at the period since 1986, paper-based capacity, for example, went from 8.7 to 19.4 petabytes.) How big is that? As CNET puts it, "An exabyte is 1,000 petabytes, and a petabyte is 1,000 terabytes, and a terabyte is about what you'd get in a desktop PC hard drive these days." So about 295 million current desktop PC's... as of 2007. Another statistic showed that storage capacity was growing by 23% per year.

Some other numbers:

*Broadcast information in 2007 amounted to 1.9 zettabytes. A zettabyte is 1,000 exabytes.
*To do, by hand, all the computing that the world's general-purpose computers do in one second would take you from here to the Big Bang. 2,200 times over.
*Every day, if you're average, you take in the equivalent of 174 newspapers, and spit out six back.
*Digital capacity overtook analog in 2002.
*All of the stored information amounts to under 1% of the information stored in a single human being's DNA. Of course, given the previous statistic, you shouldn't get too smug about it. Plus, you and the world aren't adding very much information on a net basis. That remains something of a constant. The computers are gaining ground, and momentum, every day.

The man who led the study, Martin Hilbert, shows some rather esoteric statistics involving homing pigeons and grains of sand, but you get the idea.

The next question that Hilbert wants to look at: how much of this information is actually of use. "What's the value of watching a silly cat video versus reading an overpriced book?"

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