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Data Storage Technology

Data Storage That Could Outlast the Human Race 231

Posted by samzenpus
from the built-to-last dept.
Nerval's Lobster writes "Just in case you haven't been keeping up with the latest in five-dimensional digital data storage using femtocell-laser inscription, here's an update: it works. A team of researchers at the University of Southampton have demonstrated a way to record and retrieve as much as 360 terabytes of digital data onto a single disk of quartz glass in a way that can withstand temperatures of up to 1000 C and should keep the data stable and readable for up to a million years. 'It is thrilling to think that we have created the first document which will likely survive the human race,' said Peter Kazansky, professor of physical optoelectronics at the Univ. of Southampton's Optical Research Centre. 'This technology can secure the last evidence of civilization: all we've learnt will not be forgotten.' Leaving aside the question of how many Twitter posts and Facebook updates really need to be preserved longer than the human species, the technology appears to have tremendous potential for low-cost, long-term, high-volume archiving of enormous databanks. The quartz-glass technique relies on lasers pulsing one quadrillion times per second though a modulator that splits each pulse into 256 beams, generating a holographic image that is recorded on self-assembled nanostructures within a disk of fused-quartz glass. The data are stored in a five-dimensional matrix—the size and directional orientation of each nanostructured dot becomes dimensions four and five, in addition to the usual X, Y and Z axes that describe physical location. Files are written in three layers of dots, separated by five micrometers within a disk of quartz glass nicknamed 'Superman memory crystal' by researchers. (Hitachi has also been researching something similar.)"
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Data Storage That Could Outlast the Human Race

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  • by gweihir (88907) on Thursday July 11, 2013 @02:11AM (#44247773)

    Or rather completely irrelevant. Nothing to see here except a few people that want attention. The issue with long-term storage is _not_ how to preserve the bits. It is how to preserve Reading equipment and, even more difficult, software that can read the data stored and transform it into something the user can read.

    • by Wescotte (732385) on Thursday July 11, 2013 @02:13AM (#44247779)

      Dude, did you not read the article?! It's 5D!!!

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 11, 2013 @02:16AM (#44247803)

      Exactly. The concept of a post-apocalypse tribal society restoring mankinds' knowledge with femtocell lasers is hilarious.

      • A post-apocalypse society of autodidactic polymaths with eidetic mentation would make short work of figuring it out.

      • by shia84 (1985626) on Thursday July 11, 2013 @02:44AM (#44247941)

        Who cares about a post-apocalypse tribal society on a pre-modern tech stage trying to restore mankinds' knowledge?
        Give them 10k more years and they'll manage to do it with femtocell lasers just fine. Or 50k years, it really doesn't matter, it simply shrinks compared to the idea that some cataclysm just wiped out all books accessible in the world, all professional knowledge, reading skills, parents-teaching-offspring, dozens of other information carrying media types (respectively it's usage knowledge) that would be around anyway etc. which could allow them to get up and running more quickly... but somehow left a few humans alive.

        This storage type is not meant for a post-apocalypse tribal society restoring mankinds' knowledge. But some of us would be happy if the now often unreadable magnetic records from 70 years ago would have been stored on something more durable.

        • by Smallpond (221300) on Thursday July 11, 2013 @05:49AM (#44248605) Homepage Journal

          But some of us would be happy if the now often unreadable magnetic records from 70 years ago would have been stored on something more durable.

          Because those TPS reports will make great reading?

          • Thanks for pointing out the economic issue with long-term data storage. What data is actually worth keeping that long? I'm sure there's a few examples besides the obvious benefit for future historians, but in a lot of cases we're keeping too much data, and we should be thankful that it deteriorates.
        • by dywolf (2673597)

          Give them 10k more years and they'll manage to do it with femtocell lasers just fine. Or 50k years, it really doesn't matter,

          Assuming they even know to look in the first place, or even want to.
          It's not just the ability to restore the knowledge, it's also the inclination to even do so, and the benefit of doing so.

          First "Benefit": If they have to wait til they have the same tech we do now, then there isn't even any benefit, because they ALREADY have the same tech we do now. Thus there is no gain, there is no "knowledge to restore" becaue they already have the same knowledge. This is a fundamental problem with using the highest of t

          • by shadowrat (1069614) on Thursday July 11, 2013 @08:35AM (#44249623)
            There is more to back up than technical knowledge. We've bypassed the technology of the mayans and other ancient supercultures (assuming you aren't buying into the ideas that they had alien tech and stuff), but we still have an interest in learning about them. I know slashdot is a crowd obsessed with tech over culture, but cultural knowledge is valuable. TFS jokes about it, but honestly, backing up facebook would probably be incredibly interesting to a future civilization.
          • step 1) create storage platters that can last a million years.
            step 2) label platters "these are NOT frisbees"
            step 3) create readers, for those platters, that can last a million years.

            Low tech storage like books are nice for passing knowledge, but they just don't have very good storage density. and they still have a relatively short lifespan (measured in hundreds of years?) compared to this.

            • You forgot step 4, that is to include the equivalent of a Rosetta Stone to help those in the distant future derive meaning from all that stored data. The Babylonians and ancient Egyptians came up with data storage that is quite durable and does not need any special equipment in order to read it.

        • This tech reminds of the crystal skulls. When I first learned about them someone suggested that they somehow stored all of mankind's past knowledge.

      • by Thanshin (1188877) on Thursday July 11, 2013 @02:53AM (#44247975)

        The concept of a post-apocalypse tribal society restoring mankinds' knowledge with femtocell lasers is hilarious.

        Femtocell Sharks.

    • Ah, you must be a data storage specialist, Sir. Probably you even have your own research lab doing R & D in exactly the direction these talented people work in, and you know all the relevant literature, went to the important conferences. Otherwise you would not, I trust, have emitted such a peremptory yet wise judgment ?
      • by DFurno2003 (739807) on Thursday July 11, 2013 @02:55AM (#44247987)
        He does have a 5 Digit id.
      • by gweihir (88907)

        Ah, it is so nice to be appreciated and understood! Thank you!

      • by Aboroth (1841308) on Thursday July 11, 2013 @03:58AM (#44248215)
        Researchers are used to overselling their discoveries all the time, to continue or get more funding. While they might be doing boring materials science, they have to come up with lots of pie-in-the-sky ideas about what their research could potentially be used for, if somebody can ever get enough engineers together to figure out the pesky implementation details. Geeks around here have heard promise after promise about revolutionary storage technology that goes nowhere precisely because of this drastic overselling to grab research money. It would be nice if the research system didn't force people to do this, but you can't be surprised by the skeptics of this given the nature of the beast.

        So no, I don't expect that the people who did this research care about the feasibility of the reading technology lasting as long as the data. Well, they probably care a little, but they did something and are going to brag about it as much as possible without focusing on the downsides or unfinished parts too much. It isn't their problem, they just do the research and sell it with hype, to get more money to do more research. The implementation and feasibility studies aren't their problem, that is, unless somebody gives them more money to do those things.
        • by ianare (1132971)

          You must have missed the last sentence of the article:

          "The team are now looking for industry partners to commercialise this ground-breaking new technology."

          So they are thinking about finishing the product, and making it accessible outside the research field. I can see a company like IBM showing interest in this.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 11, 2013 @06:58AM (#44248877)

          While they might be doing boring materials science, they have to come up with lots of pie-in-the-sky ideas about what their research could potentially be used for, if somebody can ever get enough engineers together to figure out the pesky implementation details. Geeks around here have heard promise after promise about revolutionary storage technology that goes nowhere precisely because of this drastic overselling to grab research money.

          We have gone from having a 3.5" surface that holds on average 1.4 million bytes or at most 2.8 million bytes - to a time where that same 3.5" of surface now holds upwards of 3 trillion bytes.

          That is hardly "goes no where"

          I for one am pretty thankful for our cheap and no less reliable 3 TB drives compared to the floppy disks of days past.

          I remember starting out with 5.25" floppies that were still actually floppy on the outside, holding 80 KB per side (140 KB if you flip the thing over manually), as a technology replacing audio tape cassette with seek times that are in many ways laughable today.
          There are others here who have lived with even older technologies and grew up very familiar with the storage problem on hardware I suspect you might not believe was ever as limited as it was.

          Just because some scientists never realized their ideas does not mean the entire storage field has gone no where over the years or that no scientist ever has.

          • I would love to see the look on a kid's face as they experience a floppy for the first time. I think it akin to walking up hill in the snow both ways to school. I love the sound.

      • by 0xdeadbeef (28836)

        Nothing to see here except a few people [who] want attention.

        That is his field, and he knows it well.

    • by Alef (605149)

      It is how to preserve Reading equipment and, even more difficult, software that can read the data stored and transform it into something the user can read.

      Oh, really? Well, in that case the equipment part must be trivial. Or what exactly do you think would be so difficult about reverse engineering a file format, in particular one that has been designed to be reverse engineered in the first place?

    • by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Thursday July 11, 2013 @03:20AM (#44248079)

      Software is no issue, you can just store a description of the algorithms in ASCII. Even if the ASCII standard is lost, a little frequency counting will be enough to rediscover it.

      A greater issue is keeping it readable to humans: In ten thousand years, English will probably be about as commonly-spoken as linear-A.

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      Or rather completely irrelevant. Nothing to see here except a few people that want attention. The issue with long-term storage is _not_ how to preserve the bits. It is how to preserve Reading equipment and, even more difficult, software that can read the data stored and transform it into something the user can read.

      some data was recorded in quartz glass before this too. data visible by naked eye,too.

      by them going for this angle in their press release makes me think that their method isn't too practical for data storage though...

      • by gweihir (88907)

        some data was recorded in quartz glass before this too. data visible by naked eye,too.

        by them going for this angle in their press release makes me think that their method isn't too practical for data storage though...

        Indeed. Good catch!

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      If storing the data is "completely irrelevant" I wonder what it is you expect to read once you've engineered high-longevity reading equipment. Aren't both kind of important, smartarse?

    • by jythie (914043) on Thursday July 11, 2013 @05:05AM (#44248453)
      Oh no! Not scientific research! How dare it not have immediate marketing applications!
    • by pantaril (1624521)

      The issue with long-term storage is _not_ how to preserve the bits

      This is wrong. For example with my collection of optical disks my problem is precisly how to preserve the bits. Reading equipment is non-issue.

      • by gweihir (88907)

        Well, yes, in "consumer" technology (i.e. "sub-standard crap made by the cheapest source"), this is can be an issue. But that issue is solved and does not qualify as a "problem". If you write all your data on tissue and then keep that tissue outside in the rain, it will not survive very long either.

    • A stupid argument. If the method of storage and its retreival are documented, both can be replicated. The current 'problem' is that institutions balk at the cost of replicating the reader technology of yesteryear. It is straightforward and COSTLY to reconstruct say the tape readers NASA used in the sixties ... and that's _all_ it is. The problem is really whether the storage medium has deteriorated making the data irretrievable even with the appropriate reader.

      • by gweihir (88907)

        And how do you propose to document the storage and its retrieval? Preferably in such a way that this documentation is still around when somebody tries to read these crystals? Did not think this through, did you?

    • by AJH16 (940784)

      Not only that, but the idea of the information not being lost after humans is silly. 1 million years may be a fair bit in regards to the human species, but the chances of anyone else even finding it within a million years is pretty remote.

  • Rosetta Stone (Score:4, Insightful)

    by blackicye (760472) on Thursday July 11, 2013 @02:15AM (#44247791)

    They could also deeply engrave rocks and stone tablets and for really important messages mountains and other large surfaces.

    Worked pretty well for the ancients.

    • Yeah, but that only lasts a few thousand years, and it also suffers the same problems that we have now, in that interpreting that data is the job of specialists, not the common person.

      • by mythix (2589549)

        The quartz-glass technique relies on lasers pulsing one quadrillion times per second though a modulator that splits each pulse into 256 beams, generating a holographic image that is recorded on self-assembled nanostructures within a disk of fused-quartz glass.

        now THAT is something the common person will be able to read!

    • We did it too. [wikipedia.org] Although, I'm not really sure what we were trying to say...
      • by KiloByte (825081)

        That sculpture is quite vulnerable by having 3D structures on an exposed face. It's made of granite so it will withstand erosion for thousands of years, and it's in a geologically stable area so it will last a bunch, but I don't see it surviving longer than several tens or at most a few hundred thousand years.

        For some real resilience, make it a bas relief without any jutting out parts [wikipedia.org].

      • "Come look, give us money."

        It was made as a tourist attraction. An effective one, even though it was never finished.

  • Every warning about not having the specific non-obvious [and in its time, patented + proprietary] tech to read the media comes into play here.
  • Guess which of the 3-letter-agencies will spend some budget for the tech?
  • by BeerCat (685972) on Thursday July 11, 2013 @02:28AM (#44247869) Homepage

    Archeologists find one of these pieces of quartz, and then (through a lifetime's study) work out that they are not just pretty baubles, but are actually data storage devices. The excitement builds. Whole teams of researchers devote their life to the task of decoding the message - after all, the Rosetta Stone gave a lot of incite into the ancients - and then finally, the day comes when someone has worked it all out:

    99 crystals contain cat pictures

    1 of them contains the instructions on how to build the reader

    And, tucked into one small segment of one of the crystals, almost as an afterthought, the digitised Bodlean Library, and the Library of Congress. Pity that bit was a bit chipped...

  • ... not like the future "beings" of this planet are going to be able to figure out how to read the damn thing - we've all see planet of the apes and how inferior those beings were.. good use to document everything if it is just a hologram on a piece of rock..

  • Now we only need kickstarter to put all known port to couple of these babies

  • by Arancaytar (966377) <arancaytar.ilyaran@gmail.com> on Thursday July 11, 2013 @02:53AM (#44247979) Homepage

    "It has not been discovered what these disc-shaped glass objects were intended to symbolize, but it is now believed that they served either as ceremonial ornaments or a crude form of currency."

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 11, 2013 @05:02AM (#44248437)

      Other experts opinionated that since it's round it obviously represents a solar symbol or a related deity.
      The disc was probably worn on the priest head or served as a mirror in certain rituals. The carvings on the box in which it was found clearly show a ray of light hitting the surface of the disc and the writings on the same box must also carry some sort of numerologist significance.

      Pseudo-scientists claim that the level of machine work needed to produce such discs is close to our current space-age technology but independent experts have been unable to find proof for this, really fine sand seems to have been used.


  • So I don't know about this latest and greatest storage tech but I have a few ideas of my own...Rock. Rock can last a long time. Of course chiseling information into rock is not really a viable option for gigabyte scale information storage, let alone the petabytes required...

    I propose storing the data in whatever medium is most likely to be preserved & the instructions on how to read the media be chiseled into rock. Those same instructions could be used to decompress a small subset of information to gi
    • I cannot recall where I read about this approach so apologies to the originator for not granting credit where it is due.

      A long piece of rock (or other material) can be used to encode a huge amount of data with just one mark.

      You need a long flat rock and the means of measuring length very accurately. **

      First, encode data as a string of bits.
      Then take that enormous binary string and treat it as a really big number X and put the mark to divide the length of the rock into the ratio 1:X

      The accuracy limits will

      • by AdamHaun (43173)

        A long piece of rock (or other material) can be used to encode a huge amount of data with just one mark.

        It's a neat idea, but I don't think it gives very much data. If you have a rock as long as the distance from Earth to the sun (~10^11 meters) and you can measure the length of the mark to within one atom (~10^-10 meters), that gives you 21 significant digits in decimal. In binary, you get log2(10^21) = ~70 bits of information.

  • Guess I'll have to buy the White Album again...
  • This will be great: intelligent squirrels will be treated to yottabytes of Slashdot flame wars and images of grumpy cat. And they'll conclude that our civilization was inevitably doomed.

  • Halfway there (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Arancaytar (966377) <arancaytar.ilyaran@gmail.com> on Thursday July 11, 2013 @03:01AM (#44248025) Homepage

    Now we just need to build a license server that will operate for a million years, so the DRM-encrypted data will still be readable.

  • We had enough trouble deciphering pictures of glyphs from ancient civilisation. This is a fancy data storage medium but you have no chance in ever deciphering it in the future.

    The quartz-glass technique relies on lasers pulsing one quadrillion times per second though a modulator that splits each pulse into 256 beams, generating a holographic image that is recorded on self-assembled nanostructures within a disk of fused-quartz glass. The data are stored in a five-dimensional matrix—the size and directional orientation of each nanostructured dot becomes dimensions four and five, in addition to the usual X, Y and Z axes that describe physical location. Files are written in three layers of dots, separated by five micrometers within a disk of quartz glass nicknamed 'Superman memory crystal' by researchers

    So the obvious question is where and how do we store this user manual? The only storage medium I know of that will last that long is a disc of quartz glass.

  • Does this disk withstand a drop or any other mechanical stress?
    How can "someone" coming after the human race has vanished read that disk?
    • by lxs (131946)

      It doesn't and they can't.

      Roughly 2500 years ago two thinkers, Herakleites in Greece and Gautama Siddartha in India most likely independent of each other came to the conclusion that permanence doesn't exist in the world. Both used their insight to lay the foundations of philosophical traditions that informed Western and Eastern thought to this very day. In the 19th century the laws of thermodynamic more or less confirmed those insights. despite all that many people still stubbornly try to beat the inevitab

  • The data are stored in a five-dimensional matrix - the size and directional orientation becomes dimensions four and five, in addition to the usual X, Y and Z

    So my cock travels in the 4th dimension when I watch pr0n?

  • by clickety6 (141178) on Thursday July 11, 2013 @04:12AM (#44248247)
    Apparently if you chip out a small square of quartz from the top edge, you can flip the disk over and store another 360 Terrabytes on the other side. The manaufacturers don't want you knowing this, of course, as they want to sell 720 TB stroage at a premium price.
  • We thought we were pretty cool putting a gold plated disc on voyager. Maybe peppering the universe with crystals embedded in rock would be a better way of spreading the word... better start looking inside those meteorites!
  • A team of researchers at the University of Southampton have demonstrated a way to record and retrieve as much as 360 terabytes of digital data onto a single disk of quartz glass

    Unfortunately that single disc is 150ft wide.

  • by VortexCortex (1117377) <VortexCortex@Nos ... t-retrograde.com> on Thursday July 11, 2013 @05:51AM (#44248617)

    A millions years from now, the first new sentient evolutionary forms that discover the fallen towers of we the ancient gods will proudly hold these precious disks up to the light. Holograms dense with data will dance within the crystalline structures before their eyes. In their grasp will be the records of our progress -- all our science and forewarnings of its power, high definition videos of escapades among the stars, and the description of a state machine to decode it. They will have in their possession an invaluable source for goodness guiding a maddening leap from their understanding to ours that they may forge a society greater still than our own...
    And they'll make down right amazing discoveries day after day in necklace design from each and every one.

  • Rosetta Disk (Score:5, Informative)

    by handy_vandal (606174) on Thursday July 11, 2013 @06:00AM (#44248645) Homepage Journal
    See also Rosetta Disk:

    The Rosetta Disk is the physical companion of the Rosetta Digital Language Archive, and a prototype of one facet of The Long Now Foundation's 10,000-Year Library. The Rosetta Disk is intended to be a durable archive of human languages, as well as an aesthetic object that suggests a journey of the imagination across culture and history. We have attempted to create a unique physical artifact which evokes the great diversity of human experience as well as the incredible variety of symbolic systems we have constructed to understand and communicate that experience.

    The Disk surface shown here [rosettaproject.org], meant to be a guide to the contents, is etched with a central image of the earth and a message written in eight major world languages: “Languages of the World: This is an archive of over 1,500 human languages assembled in the year 02008 C.E. Magnify 1,000 times to find over 13,000 pages of language documentation.” The text begins at eye-readable scale and spirals down to nano-scale. This tapered ring of languages is intended to maximize the number of people that will be able to read something immediately upon picking up the Disk, as well as implying the directions for using it—‘get a magnifier and there is more.’

    On the reverse side of the disk from the globe graphic are over 13,000 microetched pages of language documentation. Since each page is a physical rather than digital image, there is no platform or format dependency. Reading the Disk requires only optical magnification. Each page is .019 inches, or half a millimeter, across. This is about equal in width to 5 human hairs, and can be read with a 650X microscope (individual pages are clearly visible with 100X magnification).

    The 13,000 pages in the collection contain documentation on over 1500 languages gathered from archives around the world. For each language we have several categories of data—descriptions of the speech community, maps of their location(s), and information on writing systems and literacy. We also collect grammatical information including descriptions of the sounds of the language, how words and larger linguistic structures like sentences are formed, a basic vocabulary list (known as a “Swadesh List”), and whenever possible, texts. Many of our texts are transcribed oral narratives. Others are translations such as the beginning chapters of the Book of Genesis or the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

    Source: The Rosetta Project [rosettaproject.org]

  • I'd hate for some future sentient species to find these discs and an intact reader but not have the proper subscription keys to authorize decoding.
  • by Richard Kirk (535523) on Thursday July 11, 2013 @06:24AM (#44248727)
    Simple way to achieve this with conventional media. Destroy mankind!
  • This technology is great, but at that density it's practically useless for preserving human knowledge beyond our race. We can be fairly certain that beings in our universe will be able to sense some form of electromagnetic radiation (as star light seems to be a common energy source), they will likely have at least two such receptors to achieve depth perception of our universe's three macro scale physical dimensions. I have used interference patterns myself to create mediums capable of conveying four dime

  • ... DRM prevents them being read on other planets.

  • by tom17 (659054) on Thursday July 11, 2013 @08:07AM (#44249333) Homepage

    I'd still be inclined to call this 2.5D or 3D at a stretch. Use of the terminology 'dimension' usually implies the ability to make use of that dimension an arbitrary amount. So X & Y can be as big as you can make the surface. That is your 2 true dimensions.

    The Z, in this case, is only '3 layers'. Maybe in the future that can be an arbitrary size, but for now it's just 3 layers. Not really a full 'dimension'. Once they can go arbitrarily large in Z, then you can call it 3D.

    As for 4 & 5 (size and orientation), there can only be a certain number of sizes and orientations that each bit could represent. Really this is just changing the storage from Base 2 (Or Base 10 to be /. pedantic) to Base N where N = number of orientations * number of sizes. Certainly a good idea, but it should, in my opinion, not be called a dimension. We could have really big values of N, but then it would be more analogous to analogue storage. I guess you could consider it as a dimension at that point, possibly, maybe.

    Bah it's all just marketing anyway, right?

    I will make one with dot colour as a factor. SIX DEE STORAGE!!!!

  • ... and should keep the data stable and readable for up to a million years. 'It is thrilling to think that we have created the first document which will likely survive the human race,'

    Hmm. Does this guy have plans to bomb/poison the human race out of existence, or is he just superconfident it'll happen by itself? Perhaps more importantly, if the human race is gone, who is the intended audience of the document?

    • by mark-t (151149)
      Perhaps he figures, like a lot of people, that if human beings stay on this rock for too long, the probability of annihilation approaches certainty. While this may technically be true, given the disbursement of the human race around the globe, the way that so-called "extinction level events" have changed the environment of the earth since life as we know it started evolving, and the fact that human beings use their intellect to adapt to different environments many orders of magnitude faster than evolution
  • "Hitachi has also been researching something similar."
    Well THAT one will probably fail in 2 years or less, given Hitachi's typical quality level.
  • A short story by Arthur C Clarke , when the Venusians get here a few millenia after the demise of humanity, they find a flat cylinder containing a series of images which when moved rapidly past a light source reveals a 2d animation. They try to understand it, but they cannot fathom the last image which reads
    A Walt Disney Production.

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