Hitachi has recently unveiled a new data storage system that utilizes quartz glass. The company claims that the system will be able to retain data for hundreds of millions of years.
The storage system developed by company researchers uses a sliver of glass measuring 2 cm squared with 2 mm thickness. It is said to hold 40 MB of data per square inch, which is about the same volume as a standard compact disc. This is achieved by writing the data in binary format through a process of dot lasering on the quartz glass in four distinct layers. More layers can be added to increase storage density of the system, thus increasing the volume of data that can be stored.
According to Hitachi Chief Researcher Kazuyoshi Torii, in an interview with Agence France- Presse, “The volume of data being created everyday is exploding, but in terms of keeping it for later generations, we haven’t necessarily improved since the days we inscribed things on stones. The possibility of losing information may actually have increased.”
Torii pointed out that compact discs and magnetic tape storage was predicted to remain viable for a few decades at most, but in reality can last only years. It was also shown that the glass is able to retain the information after being heated to 1,000 degrees Celsius for over two hours. The glass is also able to resist radiation exposure, water ingress and many other forms of chemicals. This, he added, could allow the data to become retrievable even after hundreds of millions of years, unless the hard glass is broken.
While the project extols the virtues of data storage, reading the data is another matter altogether. The research team at Hitachi opted to use the simple binary format to allow future generations to read and recover data embedded in these quartz glass devices even by just the use of a simple microscope.
This problem is not a novel one, as one of the first storage systems projecting millions of years of integrity and reliability was NASA’s golden record. This was a compact disc that contained images and sounds of the Earth that was included in the payloads of Voyager 1 and 2. Alongside the discs were a stylus and cartridge as well as images that provide instructions on how to play the disc and details on the current location of the Earth.
While the concept of alien life reading our data is still science fiction, the concept of glass storage being able to survive a hundred million years would create a conundrum, as the human race as we know it may not even exist at around that time. Current studies have theorized that the average lifespan of a species is about ten million years, which at the rate that humans are befouling Mother Earth, may be sooner rather than later. Whatever life forms survive after man, the data stored in the quartz glass would be preserved and waiting to be recovered.