Throughout known human history, we have defined periods of time with accomplishments. In the 19th century the industrial revolution was in full swing for many westernized nations. The 20th century bore witness to the birth of countless new technologies and a better understanding of the universe around us. And as for this, the 21st century, we might remember this as the century humans first emerged from pre-history.
The BBC has recently published an article by Charles Stross positing a future where all human experience is recorded on devices the size of a grain of sand. While this sounds a bit far-fetched, the technology is not quite as far-off as people might expect.
In the last 50 years we have become quite accustomed to using computers as record-keepers. Thanks to Moore's Law, these devices tend to double in speed and/or price every 18 months. The main idea behind this trend being the number of transistors found in manufactured microchips.
But a similar trend has been happening with storage devices, where we've been able to store twice as much data on a device of the same size at roughly the same rate of time. Our ability to utilize this storage space is also keeping up, considering TITLE="j2fi.net - A ZetaByte By Any Other Name ..." HREF="https://matigo.ca/2007/03/15/a-zetabyte-by-any-other-name-would-be-just-as-l33t/" TARGET="_blank">we're approaching a ZetaByte of storage and this number is poised to explode as even more people become connected and sharing knowledge and media.
People are using the cameras on their phones more and more, and many of these are able to record video. It will only be a matter of time before these units are "always on", recording everything we see and hear in a given day. And with storage devices able to contain more and more data all the time in a smaller footprint, we're reaching the stage where we'll never need to delete anything ever again.
The article explains that there are going to be some huge legal, ethical, and privacy issues connected with recording this much data, let alone sharing it; but considering how we (as a species) reacted and adapted to the first generation of internet, the next generation (the under-18 crowd) seems to be taking what we've learned and running with it. We're moving ever closer to becoming a real global community. Our social networks stretch across the globe and back again. Privacy is something now reserved for the bathroom, and intimate moments with loved ones.
So we will no doubt find answers to these privacy concerns, if not hugely debated compromises to the matter. The flood gates have already been opened a bit, and there is no closing them again.
But how far can we go with storage? Eventually we'll reach a limit thanks to the laws of physics. With our current understanding of the universe, we will not be able to build anything with components smaller than a single atom.
But just because we can't yet comprehend how to make something smaller than an atom, doesn't mean we can't use these particles to our advantage.
One option considered was the use of a carbon crystal. Created and edited by nano-robots, these crystals could be created an atom at a time. The number of atoms found in one gram of such a crystal could contain more data than one person would be capable of filling (with our current file sizes and encoding technologies). Heck, if we could learn how to read and write data in this fashion, we would be able to store the sum total of all data recorded in 2003 on a single grain of sand.
Looking at the price trends associated with hard drives and flash media, we're only a few years away from storage media being so cheap that we could record seemingly everything that happens around us. Our GPS coordinates, images of our surroundings, the audio we're exposed to ... the list is endless. The current storage requirements to do this would be about 10,000 GB (ten TeraBytes) a year, which is expected to be about $25 CDN by 2017.
Hopefully by this point we would be able to have portable devices that would be able to record all of this information constantly, and index it in such a way that we could recall any detail within the space of a few seconds. One of the examples that was mentioned was for students to not worry so much about taking notes, but instead focusing more on understanding the lessons. They could then later review the class and take notes as required. This would be an incredible tool that would improve the quality of education a hundred-fold for everyone that was serious about learning a subject.
We can't even imagine the potential this kind of technology would have. The uses are too varied. But one of the most positive benefits of this will be what's left behind for historians. If we could record all of our experiences, then we would leave a treasure trove of information behind for future generations.
A few weeks ago I had made mention that TITLE="j2fi.net - An Eternal Web Presense" HREF="https://matigo.ca/2007/06/24/an-eternal-web-presense/" TARGET="_blank">I didn't know anything about the members of my family from just a few hundred years ago. Countless lifetime's worth of knowledge and experiences have been lost, closing the windows to where we came from. But if future historians have the ability to look back into our lives and see everything from the mundane cubicle work to the exciting treks through our lush forests, we can ensure human history is never again lost or forgotten.
For the first time ever, we would be able to see what it means to be human at a certain point in time and from various different perspectives. Once we reach this point, the historians might reclassify everything up to that year as "pre-history".