Sometimes, the most significant advances in technology go without fanfare, special editions of news programs, or an ad campaign intended to draw even the most skeptic consumers. Recently, Hitachi revealed a new way of storing data that could keep it safe for hundreds of millions of years. This means that electronic data that exists today could feasibly be preserved for a longer period of time than humans have even walked the Earth.
Using quartz glass, Hitachi’s engineers have developed a method to laser etch bits and bytes that can be read back using a microscope and maintain that etching for millions of years. This is a far cry from current storage technology, which may only last anywhere from two to 100 years. Even DVDs are capable of breaking down and experiencing a degree of rot that can damage or make your data inaccessible over time. Flash drives, platter hard drives, and SSDs are great for long-term storage, but who’s to say our great grandchildren will be able to pull these discs out of the attic and see our photo albums 80 years from now?
Another risk posed by current data storage devices is a susceptibility to the elements. CDs and DVDs quickly degrade in the presence of heat, dust, and even gravitational forces. A re-writable CD could degrade to the point where its data is unreadable within a year or two in careless storage conditions. Just try leaving a CD in a hot car during the summer and it’ll risk irreparable damage in hours. Meanwhile, Hitachi’s quartz glass technology sustained temperatures of 1,000 degrees Celsius for two hours and the data was still legible.
Downsides of the New Technology
If you’re thinking that quartz discs will be hitting the shelves any time soon, you’ll be waiting quite a while. The technology can only store 40 MB worth of information per square inch of surface area. Current data storage technologies enable many, many times that amount of information in the same space.
Quartz also isn’t quite as cheap. If you wanted to store any significant amount of information, you’d need a small fortune to do so.
Hitachi has yet to detail specific information about this technology. While it (as a corporation) has boasted this as a breakthrough in data storage, there isn’t any word on exactly how this data would be etched or read and what this equipment might cost.
Imagine headlines and historical data being stored for longer than anyone can hope to be remembered. What data would you put into a time capsule for the people of the year 3000? 4000? 15000? 150,000,000?