Data Storage for 13.8 Billion Years or How Not to Estimate Expected Lifetime

This Glass Disc Can Store 360 TB of Your Photos for 13

Scientists at the University of Southampton have come up with a new data storage system expected to last 13.8 billion years at 190°C (370°F). This system uses glass discs to optically encode 360 TB of data.

I don’t believe this claim, and I hope you don’t either. After all 13.8 billion years is the age of the universe, and the earth, itself, is only 4.5 billion years old.

The problem with the original estimate is that a lot of things can happen in 13.8 billion years, and the odds of something not happening during that time period is infinitesimally small. The scientists who made the original estimate neglected to include many events that are possible during the next 13.8 billion years.

  • Nuclear war and other man-made events (3 minutes till midnight according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists)
  • Asteroid impact (450 million years)
  • Volcanic eruption (0-100 million years)
  • Gamma ray bursts (500,000 years or so)
  • Wandering stars (possibly in the next million years)
  • Expanding sun (in 7.5 billion years the sun’s surface is expected to reach the earth’s current orbit)

When all these events are included, the expected lifetime will be dramatically shorter.

In addition, we need to consider whether anyone will be around in 13.8 billion years to read these discs and whether they will have the technology required to read them.

I am not saying that glass discs do not represent a viable long-term storage system, only that the estimate of 13.8 billion years is ridiculous. For more on using glass discs for data storage see This Glass Disc Can Store 360 TB of Your Photos for 13.8 Billion Years and or Eternal 5D data storage could record the history of humankind.

About Mark Mizen

I have over twenty years professional experience in all aspects of photography and digital imaging. I am Chair of the ISO WG5 TG2 committee responsible for physical properties and durability of imaging material and am currently with HID Global working on systems for security printing for IDs, licenses, and credit cards. Previously, I was Director of Digital Development at Creative Memories from 2009 to 2012 and was responsible for the Creative Memories digital products and services. I also established and directed the Creative Memories Technology Center, which evaluated new products prior to product introduction, assisted with production difficulties, and provided technical information to support product sales.
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3 Responses to Data Storage for 13.8 Billion Years or How Not to Estimate Expected Lifetime

  1. Chris R says:

    Not counting their claim of 13.8 billion years, do you think it can hold 360 TB (not sure what that means as I am not on top of the abbreviation “T” but I am recently certain it means much than giga byte)? Would it be possibly be as good as or better than what you think is the most secure current storage option?

    • Mark Mizen says:

      One terabyte (TB) is 1000 gigabytes (GB). At this point the announcement of this optical disc technology is premature to judge its commercial viability. What it does indicate is that additional options are available to significantly enhance the storage of digital data.

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