How big is big data? How we could run out of data storage capacity and how digital DNA storage might provide an answer.
Size does matter, doesn't it? Well, we are hardly talking about the 22% men who responded to a survey with "large", considering their penis size. While in the last century world leaders competed for territory, this century is the data era. It seems that data is the new oil. So our data team asked: How big is big?
The Smallest Bits and Pieces
Data is the new oil - just as valuable and just as difficult to mine, model and manage. Although the Internet appears an elusive mystery, it is ultimately hard wires.
A bit is the basic unit of computing information and can only one of two values: 1/0 yes/no true/false +/-. Physically it needs to be stored on a device with two states, like an electric wire.
Eight bits make a byte - which happens to be the amount needed to represent the letters in the alphabet. Similar to finance, the numbers are so big or so small that it is difficult to get a grip of what's what.
Here are a few numbers to navigate you around size:
- To recreate the natural matter of the average John Smith down to the quantum level on a computer is about 2090 bits (see Bekenstein bound for the basis for this calculation).
- In April 2014 the growth rate of the Facebook data warehouse was 0.6 PB/day.
- An average sized compressed Wikipedia article will add up to about 9.2 GiB.
Does it Fit?
The Senior VP of Seagate, one of the largest data storage companies in the world, has uttered concerns about our future storage capacity gap. We just don’t have space to store the growing quantity of data from the Internet of Things and our insatiable appetite. At this rate, by 2020, we could be producing, even at a conservative estimate, 44 zettabytes of data annually. That’s 44 with 21 zeros after it.
Our thirst for data storage has been exponential since around the 1980s. The relatively recent birth of the Internet of Things would suggest a continuing trend. If you hover over the horizontal pink lines you'll see the storage formats which have been getting more and more powerful over the years.
nuviun Quiz: Are You a Real Big Data Nerd?
Mother nature’s solution to data storage is DNA. DNA is super data dense and super stable - much more than anything else we have produced artificially. The Wyss Institute for Biomedical Engineering at Harvard has managed to smash the data density storage record by biomimicry.
Rather than binary data being encoded as magnetic regions, strands of synthetic DNA that store 96 bits of data with each of the bases representing a binary value (T and G = 1, and A and C = 0).
The Lifespan of Storage Media
One gram of DNA can store thousands of DVDs in a droplet that would fit on the tip of your pinky. To store that on hard drives, our densest storage medium today, you would need 151 kg of drives.
Dr. Church and his Harvard team successfully stored his latest book and made 70 billion copies - roughly triple the sum of the top 100 books of all time.
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Man Merges with Machine
The brain is a series of chemical and electrical signals and the crossover from human to technology is merging on several fronts. Think back to the two-mode on/off bit. A Brazilian rat managed to control an American rat simply by thinking.
Admittedly a very simple task (pull lever - get food) this is the beginning of, well, telepathy. In the book Regenesis the team discusses the possibility of inserting synthetic DNA into our own. Is the boundary between man and machine merging?