ABC science news: Storing data with gold
Photo: From RMIT University video in article

Photo: From RMIT University video in article

Listen to the segment on ABC Radio Melbourne 774 from 1:02:09 here.

If you're anything like me you might not follow the trends around data creation and storage too closely, assuming that Facebook, Google and Netflix have that part figured out. So, I was interested by many of the facts around this story out of RMIT where researchers have developed a more cost-efficient and sustainable solution to global data storage.

Why does this matter?


Right now, we create over 2.5 quintillion - that's 2,500,000,000,000,000,000) bytes of data every day, and that number is expected to increase 10x by 2025. This number in itself isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the impacts are less than desirable. For one thing, storing this much data uses 3% of the world's electricity supply. Also, in addition to the space and energy requirements, the hard disks only last about 2 years before they need to be swapped out.

The future is long data

The new 'Next-gen Optical Disk' can store 400% more data and uses 1000 times less power than traditional storage. But to me, the most promising aspect of the new data storage solution is, by far, the fact that they will be able to store data for 600 years. Because this is one of the critical breakthroughs needed to open up the scientific and human discoveries made possible by long data.

While big data allows us to gain insights at a snapshot in time, long data gives us something it's little sibling can't - context - by allowing us to see how interactions unfold and evolve over a long period of time. Think lifetimes, generations and eons.

For example, by using mathematical modelling to understand the rise and fall of empires, we might be able to learn about time limits the US "empire" or the Chinese "empire" might have that policymakers can learn from. Or learning from how religions spread to understand and predict the spread of adjacent ideas today.

Long data offers unprecedented opportunity for new discoveries in almost every field - from astrophysics to evolutionary biology, linguistics to business - but we can't unlock that potential without first addressing the storage challenge.

Jillian Kenny