It Might be Possible to Store All of the World’s Data on a Teaspoon-Sized Hard Drive

What if one day we had the capability to create a time capsule that would store every piece of data in the world on a hard drive no bigger than a teaspoon? It’s a pretty far out there concept, but researchers are suggesting that it might one day be possible. Finally, no more holding onto those old DVDs.

To tackle this huge undertaking, we would need to store the data on a DNA hard drive. The makeup of every living thing on the planet of course is encoded in DNA and it can hold a LOT of data — a gram of DNA could theoretically store 455 exabytes of data. There’s a massive amount of data in the world (just think about all the emails in your inbox), around 1.8 zettabytes of data, according to a 2011 estimate, but it should still be able to fit in a four-gram DNA hard drive.

The advantage of switching all your music and books over to a DNA hard drive is that DNA last an incredibly long time.

“We know that if you just store it lying around, you lose information,” says Robert Grass of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. So he and colleagues are working on ways to increase DNA’s longevity, with the aim of storing data for thousands or millions of years.

Scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich are confident that DNA data kept in dry glass tubes stored at a temperature of 10 °C would remain uncorrupted (and the data readable) for 2,000 years. That should give you enough time to make it through all the unwatched stuff on your DVR, right? Throw the DNA in an even colder Arctic climate and it could last close to 2 million years.

The main drawback to this is that storing data on DNA isn’t cheap. The cost of the Swiss researchers encoding 83-kilobytes — and there are a nearly two quintillion kilobytes in the world’s 1.8 zettabytes — was $1,500. So 1,500 x two quintillion = …well, it’s a crazy big number and more than our global economy can handle.

So until we find a cheaper way to store massive amounts of data, you should probably just buy a few extra flash drives.

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