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Data Storage IT News Science Technology

Data Written With "Superman Memory Crystal" Could Last Billions of Years (computerworld.com) 151

Lucas123 writes: Researchers have demonstrated a method of femtosecond laser writing in self-assembled crystaline nanostructures that can withstand temperatures of up to 1,000 degree Celsius and last indefinitely at room temperature. The storage method enables up to 360TB of capacity on a single disc. Data is written to a file comprised of three layers of nano-structured dots separated by five micrometres. The technology was first demonstrated in 2013 when a 300 kilobit digital copy of a text file was successfully recorded in 5D digital data by femtosecond laser writing. Major documents from human history, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Newton's Opticks, Magna Carta and Kings James Bible, have been saved as digital copies that could survive the human race. Coined as the 'Superman memory crystal', as the glass memory has been compared to the "memory crystals" used in the Superman films, the data is recorded via self-assembled nanostructures created in fused quartz.
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Data Written With "Superman Memory Crystal" Could Last Billions of Years

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  • Consider this: Who would still know how to find or read this? Granted, the half-life of the readable data is more about durability than actual length of time... But in a billion years will anyone even know it's data?
    • by tchdab1 ( 164848 )

      We have achieved the inevitable in data storage, not by creating a media that will outlive its physical readers, but by creating a media whose content will outlive its human readers.

    • Exactly. When cleaning out my storage vault at work I ran across old DAT tapes, Ditto ZIP drive media, etc. If I dug around old boxes at home I'm sure I might stumble across an old magneto-optical media example or three. Reading media, even if pristine condition, without the proper methods...meh...

      • by Gr8Apes ( 679165 ) on Wednesday February 17, 2016 @05:24PM (#51530319)
        I cleaned all that crap out years and years ago. Why? Because all of them were flaky, slow, and were much improved upon by later technology. Now you have a tech that can store 360TB in a single small package that will never go bad? Just imagine! Get the entire filmography for everything you want to own and never have to buy a replacement because of media deteriorating in 1 form or another, nor your kids, or kids kids, and so on. Hmm, I'll bet the *AAs won't allow any content on those.
      • My wife is into going to estate sales. There's even a phone app that she looks at that shows where they are with pictures of what's in the sale. So last Saturday we found an estate sale that was in the neighborhood and we went. In the dusty basement there was some old computer accessories and I saw this little blue thing with a data cable attached and I said I bet this is a Zip drive. Sure enough. My first thought was I don't think you can buy the data cartridges for it any more. My second thought was I won
    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Wednesday February 17, 2016 @04:58PM (#51530195) Journal
      Unless something I'm not thinking of forbids this, I'd imagine that having the ability to produce durable structures small enough to be useful for bulk data storage would also allow you to build larger structures that are visible to the naked eye or under various levels of magnification, at the expense of data density.

      This doesn't solve the rather nasty tech-writer challenge of trying to compose an instruction manual for a reader-of-the-language-in-use-2000-years-from-now; but it would allow you to provide multiple 'stages' of readable data with various trade-offs between storage capacity and intelligibility. Text large enough to be obvious and readable with the naked eye would be inefficient; but hard to miss. Text large enough to require modest magnification to actually read; but look patterned enough to be worth investigating to the naked eye could easily crunch several paragraphs into a reasonably modest space(microfilm/microfiche scale, say). Text invisible to the naked eye; but readable without any fancy polarization tricks and just an optical microscope could be denser still; and finally the technique described could be used for bulk data storage.

      Doesn't solve the language barrier; but it would allow you to do some amount of self-documenting of the format, starting with a visible 'README', and proceeding down through one or more layers of less densely packed data describing how to interpret the more densely packed layer beneath, and finally the data area.(which we would presumably encrypt and tie to a DRM system that was nuked to ashes millenia ago; because what's a good technological advance without some self defeating stupidity?)
      • I was thinking along the following lines ...

        big x's mark about 20 or 30 spots on the moon.
        you can see it with a real powerful telescope
        that would have been invented around 1900
        this is a frame of reference to technology to spot it

        we know that they have to develop a huge roman candle to get to the moon
        so we have to form some sort of lock that 1950's humans could open
        when they get to the X

        Now we have to design a language, What would 1950's human read ...
        it's got to be binary or math or chemical symbols ( Water

      • by Etcetera ( 14711 ) on Wednesday February 17, 2016 @06:13PM (#51530685) Homepage

        There's a lot of discussion about some of these problems in the various agencies tasked with documenting nuclear waste sites. Perhaps most famously, the WIPP:
        Expert Judgment on Markers to Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant [energy.gov] (Excerpts here [energy.gov])

        It's a great read. One of the most critical determinations by the interdisciplinary team was that the most detailed information wasn't necessarily the most important or useful. You need multiple layers of messaging, when trying to convey something to people 10000 years from now who probably don't speak the same language. The most basic being: "There is a message here"

      • Scientists looked at the structure of quartz and determined that pretty much ALL of the Earth's quartz comes from the bodies dead sea sponges. If we can work that out by looking at the structure of quartz, then our ancestors will work this out from the structure.

        However you don't need to read the content for the artifact to be informative to an archeologist. Geometric symbols smeared onto cave walls with coloured dirt have lasted at least 40Kyrs. Some of them are up to half a kilometer underground in pla
        • Scientists looked at the structure of quartz and determined that pretty much ALL of the Earth's quartz comes from the bodies dead sea sponges.

          Can I get a smoke of that, cobber? That's some good gear you're smoking.

          Where the absolute fuck did you get that particular piece of complete bullshit from?

      • Wasn't this called microfische in the 1970s?

        • The dense storage mechanism proposed in the paper is significantly different, since it depends on manipulating birefringence; but the proposed 'just write some directions into the storage disk' part of the plan would be more or less identical, just on a sturdier medium.

          Man, I kind of miss microfilm. Clunky; but you still run across items available on microfische and not in digital formats from time to time.
      • Doesn't solve the language barrier...

        What makes you think that there's going to be one in only 2000 years? I can think of at least seven languages off the top of my head that are at least that old and are still in use today, and I'd expect most of those to last at least another 2000 years. English, of course, isn't that old yet, but unless there's a worse breakdown of society than the Dark Ages, I'd expect that it'd still be in use, even if it's not the main international language any more.
        • I don't know how much of a barrier there will be, I just wanted to be careful to emphasize that my post only covered the problem of dealing with legacy storage media, not linguistic issues.

          My wild guess is that (barring some cataclysm that makes prediction basically futile) whether or not they'll call the most English-like thing spoken in 4016 'English' or not will depend more on political continuity than on its exact properties(nation states love to have a pet language, so even minor regional difference
          • Some of the languages I was thinking about change faster than others. At least two of them are at least 3000 years old, and their early literature is still easily understood by modern speakers. (Specifically, Greek and Hebrew.) My guess is that today's English will be at least as understandable as Middle English is now, possibly as readable as Shakespeare.
    • From the look of it. it seems you can imprint visible text on it and pictures.
      So you may make a rosetta stone of instructions on how to make a reader in as many languages you can think of. As well as pictures. I am not so much worried about a billion years but 10,000 years is a good run, where memory of our society would normally be close to gone. Finding such material on how to make a reader and to make one and get all our crazy data would be an major archaeological find. Perhaps after seeing it, they w

      • Voyager encoded binary on an optical disc, this is just making wild claims about how much longer a crystal based structure might last - for all they know, when Planet X returns (once every 70,000 years) it could totally mangle their fine scale crystal structures.

    • Stone case with hyroglyphics? Also, how about archiving content created by the "plebs", instead of just the usual big league players? Archiologists learn a great deal from the posessions and even waste from the "common" person of the era they are trying to learn about.
    • by MikeMo ( 521697 )
      Unless there's a catastrophe of some kind that turns our civilization into the ancient Egypt of the future, I'm pretty sure that civilization a billion years in the future will know it's data. They'll probably be able to read it (what WON'T they be able to do?). They just won't care about it.
      • Try reading some data files created 20 or 30 years ago. Never mind the problem of getting them off of the media. It's how do you read the format of the file. Sure simple things like text and GIF files are okay. But what about spreadsheets and word processing files? Anything from a database? Now imagine 100 years into the future and try to interpret a Word or RAW file.

        • by MikeMo ( 521697 )
          Right, but I'm thinking the folks of a billion years from now might have a few more technological skills than we do. :)
          • I'm sure they'll still be using ASCII + UTF8.

            (What possible reason could there be to stop using that?)

        • actually, what you are asking is trivial and done regularly. dbase III goes into Microsoft Access, for example. my 1980s compac discs play file too

          • Like I said some things will work. I have diagrams that I made 22 years ago on a Mac while I was on a university work term that I can't open. I got away from the Mac for a long time and now I don't even know if anything can read the files. I have an old bunch of WordPerfect files that would probably only be able to be read in a copy of of WordPerfect but I'm not buying one since I know that they aren't that important to me. I can use some command line tools to get a basic look at the contents to make sure.

            • how old the wordperfect version? there are import filters going back to 5.1 (released 1989) for microsoft office

              Ingres is open source, GPL licensed. I'd use cvs export feature of older version and import assistant of new

        • Try reading some data files created 20 or 30 years ago.

          Okay here is the source code for the Multic operating system published in 1970's over 40 years ago.

          http://web.mit.edu/multics-his... [mit.edu]

        • by Livius ( 318358 )

          We have data "files" from thousands of years ago in unknown languages, and while only specialists are in a position to even attempt to decipher it, there are experts passionately trying their best, and the world will be excited if (when) they succeed.

        • by dbIII ( 701233 )

          Try reading some data files created 20 or 30 years ago

          .
          In my workplace we do that all the time. Sometimes even stuff from the early 1980s. The "secret" is to use files with published standard formats instead of obfiscated Microsoft crap.
          Radical? No kids, the oil industry that is as conservative as it gets does it.

        • Try reading some data files created 20 or 30 years ago. Never mind the problem of getting them off of the media. It's how do you read the format of the file. Sure simple things like text and GIF files are okay. But what about spreadsheets and word processing files? Anything from a database? Now imagine 100 years into the future and try to interpret a Word or RAW file.

          The trick is not to use deliberately obfuscated file formats (or software that generates them).

          I'm pretty sure people in the future will be able to decipher ASCII / XML / Markdown / etc

    • Save part of the thing to print microscopic human-readable instructions a la Voyager 1.

    • by Livius ( 318358 )

      Who would still know how to... read this?

      If it's designed to be deciphered easily, it won't be too hard. Include a child's picture book, progressively more difficult textbooks, dictionaries, a recent version of Wikipedia, etc.

      Even if it's turns out it's not as easy as it sounds, as long as the medium has longevity, future archaeologists can spend decades or centuries on it if they have to.

  • Buzzwords (Score:3, Insightful)

    by darkain ( 749283 ) on Wednesday February 17, 2016 @04:35PM (#51530023) Homepage

    Goddamn, I don't think I've seen so many buzzwords in a single summary in my life!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Not even close: 3D printed 5D nanocrystals from privately mined Elon Musk Hyperloop asteroid mines. Private spaceport!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Timothy beat you to it.

  • Why bother (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Wednesday February 17, 2016 @04:41PM (#51530069)

    Major documents from human history, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), ..., Magna Carta and Kings James Bible, have been saved as digital copies that could survive the human race.

    So long as they called the directory: Documents we humans chose to ignore.

    • Wait. The King James Bible is alive and well, isn't it? I can go to any parking lot in town and find a preponderance of passages from that version on bumper stickers. Some people have moved on to NIV, granted, but folks love to thump that KJV hard.

      But yeah, not sure what the point is in keeping the other documents. Nobody knows what they say and nobody cares.

      • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *
        It's one thing to quote and recite the bible and it's another thing entirely to live it. I take the atheists' view: if only Christians acted the way they are supposed to, the world would be a better place.
  • 5 dimensions? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by pr0t0 ( 216378 )

    From TFA: Researchers at the University of Southampton have discovered a way to store data in five dimensions on nanostructure glass...

    No, they certainly did not.

    • Re:5 dimensions? (Score:4, Informative)

      by John Bokma ( 834313 ) on Wednesday February 17, 2016 @04:51PM (#51530143) Homepage

      "The information encoding is realized in five dimensions: the size and orientation in addition to the three dimensional position of these nanostructures,"

      IIRC orientation = phase

      • Re:5 dimensions? (Score:4, Informative)

        by slew ( 2918 ) on Thursday February 18, 2016 @01:35AM (#51532743)

        "The information encoding is realized in five dimensions: the size and orientation in addition to the three dimensional position of these nanostructures,"

        IIRC orientation = phase

        Not exactly, but close. In birefringent crystals, there is a different index of refraction on each axis, Incident light in a specific direction to a section of birefringence will bend differently depending on the relative indices (because one axis will be slow and another will be fast)

        These folks used a pulse laser to set a nanostructure located at an (x,y,z) in the crystal to one of 4 orientations for birefringence and one of 2 different light retardance yielding 3 bits of storage for each (x,y,z) location in the crystal (what they call 5D storage).

        Their advance is that their technique uses a spatial light modulator (kind of like an LCD panel) to configure the 3 bits instead of traditional optics which would have required a mechanical apparatus (e.g., stepper+screw assembly on optics) and thus be bit serial and slow, although they still need to physically move the crystal to change what group of (x,y,z) locations to write.

        The spatial light modulator was use to create a holographic (aka phase-like) image for some fancy optics (i.e., fresnel lens and a specially constructed half-wave plate matrix) to set the amplitude and the polarization of the light used to configure the nanostructure. But unlike a phase hologram, what they are actually configuring is the birefringence axes of that local structure (i.e., the local index of refraction relative to each axis of the crystal).

        Why use birefringence instead of traditional phase recorded "holographic" memory storage? Because it's easier to write partial sectors, incident light from bits comes out at different angles (easier to build detectors), and you don't have to have expensive phase-controlled optics to illuminate the storage to read it out.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You do realize "dimension" has other means than just spatial, right?

  • by skogs ( 628589 ) on Wednesday February 17, 2016 @04:46PM (#51530107) Journal
  • > as digital copies that could survive the human race

    (That's actually really cool.) Ok, let's assume that we've put the entirety of human knowledge on crystals that could survive us as a race. It seems like we should put it somewhere ... what would the term be ... astronomically safe? Maybe in solar orbit out past Jupiter? In the Oort cloud? On Pluto? The problem seems to be, the more remote we put it, the harder it will be for some other civilization to find.

    • Why would you put it in just one place?

      Copies everywhere!

      • Why would you put it in just one place?

        Copies everywhere!

        Not bad. If the resulting crystals are small and light enough, perhaps part of every spacecraft and lander. All landers double as memorials of the human race up to that point.

  • I would think this would be wonderful for companies offering long term storage for rarely accessed data even if it is write once media.

    May lower the cost of services like Backblaze B2 and Amazon Glacier.

    Otherwise I expect the equipment to be well out of anyone's price range for a while.
    Should give Panasonic's Blu-ray storage a run for its money though.
    http://hardware.slashdot.org/s... [slashdot.org]

    Also....this is a DUPE http://hardware.slashdot.org/s... [slashdot.org]

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Wednesday February 17, 2016 @04:58PM (#51530197)

    It's great that we can store data that will last for eons. Guess what: So did a lot of cultures that left us mountains of written text. Too bad nobody has the ability to read it anymore.

    Storing data forever means nothing if the future recipients of that data cannot access it. And we're not even talking about some stone tablets that are at least easily readable if you know the language. You first of all have to find out THAT what you hold in your hands is actually data. Imagine I'm not familiar with our way of encoding data, what would I see in the disc the man holds in the picture in TFA? An image. And some other image above it. And I think in the middle there's some scratched square.

    That's basically all there is to the "uninitiated".

    No, folks. If you want to store data "forever", you first and foremost have to make sure that whoever digs it up also knows without a doubt that this IS data. Next you have to provide a way for him to decipher it. And THEN we can talk about the significance of producing data storage that can last until the end of the universe.

    We already have had data storage that can outlive our civilization.

    • by epine ( 68316 ) on Wednesday February 17, 2016 @05:31PM (#51530373)

      So did a lot of cultures that left us mountains of written text.

      No culture has ever left us a "mountain" of text that we aren't able to at least partially decipher, unless we're talking a writing system measured in words/kilogram.

      You're so clueless about this matter, it's almost shocking.

      Leibniz would have recognized a digital archive of Wikipedia (say the size of the English Wikipedia, but in any human language) as a linguistic record at the drop of pin (I grant him a few weeks to crack UTF-8.) Every conceivable statistical measure would point to this. Perhaps a sentient dolphin—if our wildest theories about the nature of the dolphin mind play out—would have trouble dialing this in without the use of a calculating machine. One doesn't need to understand a single word in order to extract the semantic graph. From there, deep learning would practically spew out coloured buckets like a rainbow farting unicorn.

      You don't think with hundreds of thousands of pages where the bold subject is immediately followed by "(1646-1716)" that this wouldn't quickly be recognized as ordered pairs of positive integers? With a bell curve on the interval distribution? And a sudden flat top at 2016? But only if you ignore the ones containing BC or BCE, which thin out tremendously the further back you go?

      I wonder, could this axis be a physical dimension, or perhaps the infamous fourth dimension? We are talking a cognitive mode which has discovered planetary motion, are we not?

      If you don't think any of that, well then, you have such a spectacularly low opinion of human or human-successor intelligence, I don't even think we can communicate.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Until the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, ancient Egypt did *exactly* that, and they didn't have the 'advantage' of using a medium where the 'writing' is invisible to the human eye. To recognize a linguistic record, you've got to be able to recognize a) that the object *is* a data storage medium (e.g. SD card), b) figure out how to extract the data from the storage medium (e.g. card reader), c) determine the encoding used (e.g. UTF-8), d) convert that into a set of discrete symbols you can operate on (e.g.

        • yet a CD would be readable in the 18th century by microscope, and certain data would be decipherable even on a music or VCD (titles and other metadata, etc.)

        • What you're missing here is the fact that there was never any doubt that the Egyptian inscriptions were written messages of one sort or another. The problem was that the last people who knew how to read hieroglyphics left no instructions on how to translate them into any other form of writing. The only reason that we can translate them today is the fact that the same text is present in three different languages, one of them Greek, on the Rosetta Stone [wikipedia.org], giving us a way to work out what the symbols meant.
      • dude, you seem to be the guy to work on the Voynich Manuscript or Rohonc codex.

      • Leibniz would have recognized a digital archive of Wikipedia (say the size of the English Wikipedia, but in any human language) as a linguistic record at the drop of pin

        Sure, if he had a way to read it out...

    • There are some undeciphered texts out there; but some of the main causes of difficulty are scarcity and lack of context. It's not clear that you can really resurrect 'fluency' in a language that has been solidly killed off with only a written record to go on; but the larger the supply of texts and, ideally, the larger the supply of texts including multiple languages, pictures, accounting systems, periodic tables, etc. the better off you are.

      Hard to say how much the future will care; but they'll have a mu
  • http://hardware.slashdot.org/s... [slashdot.org]

    Hmmmm

    There should be a rule, if you post to /. you must read /., all of it.
  • by cyber-vandal ( 148830 ) on Wednesday February 17, 2016 @05:10PM (#51530255) Homepage

    The blank media tax will be prohibitive.

  • by Areyoukiddingme ( 1289470 ) on Wednesday February 17, 2016 @05:25PM (#51530331)

    I keep hoping for journalism. Foolish, I know. From TFA:

    ...similar to that found in Polaroid sunglasses.

    That's quality, that is.

    It continues:

    The technology was first demonstrated in 2013 when a 300 kilobit digital copy of a text file was successfully recorded in 5D.

    Thanks for that. Anybody who has been paying attention knew this wasn't just a dupe, but a two year old dupe. (We won't ask why we're talking about the size of a text file in kilobits.) Except, is it? Why are we talking about it again? Did the write speed go up? Did the theoretical longevity improve? Did the mome raths outgrabe? TFA doesn't say.

    It gets worse. The effing press release doesn't say. And it is in fact the idiot source of the quote in the previous summary that managed to be mangled unicode:

    ...virtually unlimited lifetime at room temperature (13.8 billion years at 190 degrees C )

    The University of Southampton press office believes room temperature is 190 degrees C. A fine educational institution, no doubt. (And slashdot refuses to even display ASCII 248, let alone the unicode degree symbol.)

    The whole things look like a botched effort on the part of the university to drum up some funding, especially since the press release ends with:

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

    Yeah, no kidding...

    Best of all, at the current write throughput (not mentioned in this idiot press release), it would take approximately 1200 years to fill a single disc to capacity.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    360TB on a 500 square millimeter glass disk in three layers comes out to a center-to-center distance of 0.7nm between dots in a layer. That's six times the diameter of a silicon atom. They are absolutely not writing that into glass with a laser. The press is eating this up, and they wonder why they can't sell subscriptions anymore.

  • will it survive being smashed by a hammer?

    Technically if you wrote the data to the crystal properly with redundant writes you should be able to.

  • Just a silly thought. But if you put this into a current PC as it's main storage medium how long would it last before it was full assuming it could never delete anything written, so every single write is to a new block. You definitely wouldn't want it to swap to it but I'm kinda thinking along the lines of building up stacks of notebooks. Never accidentally delete anything ever again. Of course all your porn that got cached to disk would be there as well.

  • Nanostructured Glass Could Provide Highly Durable, Deeply Dense Data Storage [slashdot.org]

    I know, I know, people have already commented that it's a dupe. But if we can have dupe stories all the time, why not dupe comments as well? :)

  • by NEDHead ( 1651195 ) on Wednesday February 17, 2016 @06:08PM (#51530645)

    Will anyone recognize it as different than a chunk of salt? Is the knowledge of the universe being wasted on dinner tables every day? Should we be reading every truckload coming out of the salt mine just in case?

    • We've used ancient structures as quarries. Used mummies as medicine. Shakespearean manuscripts have been burned for fuel by the unwitting. Fossil fields ground up. As unlikely as it may seem, it actually wouldn't be terrible to give some occasional thought to whether there is anything useful being lost in the salt mines.

  • So everything gets read out by Marlon Brando?

  • what if they get wet?
  • My cat pictures will last longer than ever before!

  • the King James Bible among the other great works of human creativity. I wouldn't want aliens or just more advanced humans who find this stuff 100k years from now to think that we were superstitious idiots.

  • 360kb, takes me back to, oh, 1976?

    Oh, 360TB.

    Sorry.

  • the king james fucking bible bullshit? really? ffs ....we should put a stop to this irrational bullshit being propagated....damn religious virus..../ rant
  • ..Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Newton's Opticks, Magna Carta and Kings James Bible,...

    Grimm's Fairy Tales would have been a better choice.

"It says he made us all to be just like him. So if we're dumb, then god is dumb, and maybe even a little ugly on the side." -- Frank Zappa

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