New research shows that the world may be facing an ‘information disaster’ as the speed of the production of digital bits continues to accelerate with no sign of stopping.
In a new study – firmly in the more abstract quarter of theoretical physics – researcher Melvin Vopson from the University of Portsmouth in the UK predicts that the digital store of digital information is dated. Our increase can have serious unforeseen consequences. for matter on the planet.
“We are literally changing the planet, and it’s an invisible crisis,” Vopson said.
To understand Vopson’s latest ideas, it is necessary to consider a theoretical structure he proposed last year, called the mass-energy-information equivalence principle.
In that work, Vopson drew inspiration from the work of German-American physicist Rolf Landauer in the 1960s, which suggested that information is of a physical nature, due to thermodynamic constraints.
Based on those ideas, Vopson hypothesized that a little bit of digital information is not just physics, as Landauer suggests, but something with finite mass and quantifiable while it is. save data.
According to Vopson’s theoretical thinking and calculations, the volume of a data storage device will increase a small amount when fully loaded with digital information, compared to its mass in the erased state. The theoretical mass increase would be extremely small, but still significant, and measurable, Vopson says.
That said, Vopson’s idea – the mass-energy-information equivalence principle – has yet to be verified experimentally at this time.
Undeterred, the researcher has now published a new paper, looking at some of the hypothetical future consequences if his theoretical principles were to be true – and the predictions that surprised some readers.
First, Vopson looks at IBM’s estimate that about 2.5 quintals of digital data is generated every day on Earth, which equates to about ~ 1021 Annual digital information bits.
If the amount of digital content we create increases by 20% annually, Vopson calculates that within 350 years or so the number of digital bits created will exceed the number of all. atoms on Earth.
However, even before we get there, the power consumption required to sustain all of that digital production of information will be more than the planet currently supplies, Vopson said. But that’s not all.
If we were to rely on the principle of mass-energy-information equivalence – that is the old bug – this huge amount of digital information would make a difference in mass, not just energy.
“Assuming conservative 1% annual digital content creation growth … we estimate that it will take about 3,150 years to generate the first 1 kg cumulative digital information volume. It will take ~ 8,800 years to convert half of the planet’s mass into digital information mass, ”explains Vopson in his paper.
“When we enter larger growth rates of 5 percent, 20 percent, and 50 percent, respectively, these numbers become extreme.”
Extreme is an expression. With 50% annual growth, digital content will account for half of the planet’s mass in just 225 years.
Of course, all these theoretical predictions have to be made with large amounts of salt, because the abstractions being explored here will not necessarily correspond exactly to the real world in such a way that proposed equations.
There are many uncertainties and unknowns, not least of which is the unproven principle of mass-energy-information equivalence itself.
However, those are some compelling thinking, and Vopson hopes his idea will stimulate further theoretical and experimental research, possibly helping us come closer to answering some questions. This very large.
“Since both the theory of relativity and the Landauer principle have been proven correct, it is very likely that the new principle will also be proven correct,” Vopson told Inverse.
“Even though it’s just theory for now.”
The findings are reported in AIP progress.