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Will Data Be The One To End Us?

It might sound unlikely, but data does have a potential to end the human race. To be specific, it’s not data itself, but data storage.

As societies increasingly rely on digital information and there's more and more of it, we'll one day reach a point where the number of bits being stored will outnumber the atoms that make up our planet. That's according to theoretical physicist and Senior Lecturer Melvin Vopson at the University of Portsmouth in the UK. A peer‐reviewed paper on his theory, called "The Information Catastrophe," was recently published in the journal AIP Advances.

According to the Jefferson Lab, there are about 1.33 x 10^50 atoms in our planet. That’s a lot.

"Currently, we produce ∼1021 digital bits of information annually on Earth," Vopson begins. This is based on an IBM estimate that humans produce 2.5 quintillion digital data bytes daily. With an assumed 20 percent growth rate, the number of bits we produce will outnumber the entirety of atoms on the planet in around 350 years. In a press release, Vopson said, "We are literally changing the planet bit by bit, and it is an invisible crisis."
There are a lot of variables to consider. For instance, the number of bits produced each year, data storage capacity, energy production and the size of the bit compared to the atom (mass distribution). There are human‐centered factors too, such as population growth and the rate of access to information technology in developing countries. "If we assume a more realistic growth rates of 5%, 20%, and 50%," the paper states, "the total number of bits created will equal the total number of atoms on Earth after ∼1,200 years, ∼340 years, and ∼150 years, respectively."

That’s scarier than the sun exploding. And to make matters worse, we also have to deal with climate change.

More details about this over at Big Think.

What are your thoughts about this one?

(Image Credit: TheDigitalArtist/ Pixabay)


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