Wow — I remember back in 2000 when the Long Now project first started talking about its Rosetta Disc project. The idea was to look at ways of preserve cultural information for very long periods of time. We’ve got more data than ever before, but how much of it is going to be preserved in a readable format 100 years from now?
The Long Now Project took that even further — what would it take to preserve information with a high degree of reliability for 1,000 years? Longer?
Back then the idea was to use technology from Norsam which essentially etches images of pages onto a metal disk. The images etched onto the disk are small enough that they have to be viewed using a special microscope, but allowing for potentially hundreds of thousands of pages to be stored on a single 3- inch disk. And the upshot was the lifespan — somewhere in the 2,000 to 10,000 year span.
Anyway, after eight years, they’ve finally managed to produce the disk for the Long Now Project.
The disc is titanium on the front (the side depicted here) and nickle on the back, where the information is actually etched. There are 13,500 pages here including 1,500 different translations of Genesis 103, a list of common words for those 1,500 languages, etc.
There’s actually another, less ambitious, Rosetta Disc that was produced back in 2004, but it was launched on the Rosetta Space Probe scheduled to rendezvous with a comet in 2014.
You can have your own copy of the latest iteration of the Rosetta Disc for a mere $25,000.
Personally, I’m hoping for a version of Charles Stross idea of using synthetic diamonds to store information,
My model of a long term high volume data storage medium is a synthetic diamond. Carbon occurs in a variety of isotopes, and the commonest stable ones are carbon-12 and carbon-13, occurring in roughly equal abundance. We can speculate that if molecular nanotechnology as described by, among others, Eric Drexler, is possible, we can build a device that will create a diamond, one layer at a time, atom by atom, by stacking individual atoms — and with enough discrimination to stack carbon-12 and carbon-13, we’ve got a tool for writing memory diamond. Memory diamond is quite simple: at any given position in the rigid carbon lattice, a carbon-12 followed by a carbon-13 means zero, and a carbon-13 followed by a carbon-12 means one. To rewrite a zero to a one, you swap the positions of the two atoms, and vice versa.
It’s hard, it’s very stable, and it’s very dense. How much data does it store, in practical terms?
The capacity of memory diamond storage is of the order of Avogadro’s number of bits per two molar weights. For diamond, that works out at 6.022 x 1023 bits per 25 grams. So going back to my earlier figure for the combined lifelog data streams of everyone in Germany — twenty five grams of memory diamond would store six years’ worth of data.
Six hundred grams of this material would be enough to store lifelogs for everyone on the planet (at an average population of, say, eight billion people) for a year. Sixty kilograms can store a lifelog for the entire human species for a century.
In more familiar terms: by the best estimate I can track down, in 2003 we as a species recorded 2500 petabytes — 2.5 x 1018 bytes — of data. That’s almost ten milligrams. The Google cluster, as of mid-2006, was estimated to have 4 petabytes of RAM. In memory diamond, you’d need a microscope to see it.
Now that would be a diamond worth paying a couple months’ salary for.