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# How long until you can fit the Internet on a pen?March 9, 2013 2:10 PM   Subscribe

Assuming Moore's law maintains and storage technologies continue to improve at their current rate, how many decades until we can fit the entire Internet onto something the size of a pen? Assume 5 cubic centimetres as the size of the pen.
posted by Sebmojo to computers & internet (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

Um, considering the rate of expansion of content available on the internet... roughly never?
posted by fearnothing at 2:25 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]

Yeah, you need to bound this in some way. Many of the same dynamics that allow one to fit increasing amounts of data into the same amount of space, also lead to more and more data being available on "The Internet." Indeed, the growth of genome sequence information in public databases alone is probably growing faster than Moore's law.
posted by Good Brain at 2:35 PM on March 9

Yeah, I'm pretty sure the Internet is growing at least as fast as Moore's law.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 2:36 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]

Right now you can get a memory stick that's about a terabyte. It's impossible to know for sure but starting with this which doesn't include Google, let's say the current internet is 10 exabytes. That means it takes ten million 1TB memory sticks to hold it.

Flash drives approximately double in size every year. This may be slowing down, but let's optimistically assume it's not. That means it will take 23 years before we can hold the internet as it is today. Note that if my estimate of the size of the internet is off by a factor of ten that just represents a difference of 3 years - but if the speed of capacity increase is off the could make the result way different.

I would assume that the internet is growing at a pretty similar clip though. So if you mean "when we be able to hold all the data the exists in the world in our hands" the answer is certainly never. Because nobody's going ever make a 256 exabyte drive while there's only a few zettabytes of information in the whole world.
posted by aubilenon at 2:40 PM on March 9 [6 favorites]

This isn't really answerable without unfounded assumptions. So, I'm gonna assume unfoundedly:

(1) The rate of growth of the internet will roughly correspond to the rate of growth of the population. This seems to me to be in a very very rough sense a not too horrible assumption, but certainly not a good one.

(2) The world population will roughly double every fifty years, as it roughly has in the past fifty years. This seems to me to be an outright bad assumption, as it's actually expected to grow more slowly and level off, but hey.

(4) Moore's Law of doubling per two years is and will remain roughly true. I don't know enough about this.

(6) A storage pen available on the normal consumer market could currently contain 32 GB, just based on my brief perusal of Amazon for what thumb drives seem to contain nowadays.

Assuming all of those highly questionable assumptions, then I come up with the year 2084, when a pen will be able to contain 1 internet of approximately one and a half zettabytes.
posted by Flunkie at 2:48 PM on March 9

Moore's law is about processor power, not storage space. However, in any event, it is worth noting that it is not linear forever. At some point, the line become asymptotic. Intel has estimated that this will occur this decade. The limiting factor is the size of the electron. We probably won't find a way to make electrons smaller. (and of course, it's not a law of the universe - it was an observation and prediction by a man named Moore)

Physical limits also make it unlikely that the internet on 5 cc will ever be possible. A zettabye stored in a 5cc cube would need 6.25e-24 m^3 or less per bit. That is about a billion times smaller than a hydrogen nucleus and a ridiculous amount of times smaller than the wavelength of any EM radiation. You will never make a read/writer head small enough read or write to this storage device, and given the size of electrons, EM radiation, and magnetic grains, I do not think that such storage density will ever be close to possible.

posted by Tanizaki at 4:04 PM on March 9 [9 favorites]

But debates about Internets on pens can get close to angels on pins.
Option 1: The Internet is already on my phone, so surely an iPen isn't far behind.
Option 2: If you're referring to a data dump -- all the zeroes & ones on the Internet at a given moment -- well, it may or may not ever be physically doable. Ever and never are difficult.
BUT even then, it depends on which snapshot you're referring to: The Internet today, or the Internet in existence when the pen ships, which will be a ... bigger Internet.
The problem is ... whichever snapshot you define, even if you could capture and download it, it will obsolete in instant. Then it's a different Internet, by a million keystrokes or more. You can't step in the same river twice.
posted by LonnieK at 4:18 PM on March 9

I should have said I meant the current internet, as in right now.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:29 PM on March 9

This question is unanswerable since we have no way of knowing what the internet will be years from now. The video aspects of the internet have barely even just begun. Who knows what's next.
posted by 2oh1 at 4:36 PM on March 9

Perhaps this question should be rephrased as:
How big, in terms of hard drive space, is the internet today, and how many years will it take before we reach a point where that much memory will fit into an object the size of a pen?
posted by 2oh1 at 4:40 PM on March 9

Related: XKCD "What if" when the Internet bandwidth will surpass that of FedEx.
posted by cardioid at 5:07 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]

2oh1, that works. I was thinking of the computatinal resources entailed by the net as well, but lets just keep it as storage plus enough oomph to access an amount of data of that size.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:10 PM on March 9

For a practical estimate of how much space is needed, some cursory searching puts the Internet Archive's database at 10 petabytes.
posted by GenericUser at 6:33 PM on March 9

Moore's law is about processor power, not storage space.

No, it is about the density (and/or cost) of transistors in an integrated circuit. That has had a strong correlation with processor "power," it also has a strong correlation with the capacity and density of solid-state memory.

A zettabye stored in a 5cc cube would need 6.25e-24 m^3 or less per bit. That is about a billion times smaller than a hydrogen nucleus.

I think your math is off there. Were you comparing diameter to volume?

For what it is worth, the original question asked about storage in 5 cm^3, not random r/w access. As it happens, DNA packs about 1.88E21 bits/ cm^3. So, 5 cm^3 holds ~1.17 Exabytes, including some built in error detection and correction. Writing and reading it, that is another matter.
posted by Good Brain at 7:10 PM on March 9

For what it is worth, the original question asked about storage in 5 cm^3, not random r/w access. As it happens, DNA packs about 1.88E21 bits/ cm^3. So, 5 cm^3 holds ~1.17 Exabytes, including some built in error detection and correction. Writing and reading it, that is another matter.

Yes, I did conflate volume and diameter.

The fact about DNA is great, but I presumed the purpose of having the pen-sized device full of data was to access the data. Without the ability to write to it, how would the data get there in the first place?

The general answer is that any data storage medium will exist in the physical universe. Since everything in the physical universe is finite, there will be a limit to data storage density. However, I do not think the size of the wavelength of light will be the limiting factor. As storage density becomes greater, the areas to record data necessarily become smaller, thereby becoming more susceptible to damage and corruption. I think that fragility of the storage medium is going to be what caps storage density.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:46 PM on March 9

Tanizaki: The fact about DNA is great, but I presumed the purpose of having the pen-sized device full of data was to access the data. Without the ability to write to it, how would the data get there in the first place?
Not sure why you seem to believe that information could never be intentionally written to DNA. It's already possible: we can move molecules from one location to another along a gene, or truncate it, or add new ones entirely. Ergo, we are writing information to DNA already.

It's not currently an efficient means of data storage for us, but there's no reason to believe it can't be done. Regardless, the DNA example was apparently offered to conclusively prove your earlier math had an error in it; DNA is far from the most compact molecular data storage imaginable (as nature is seldom efficient, except perhaps on the largest scales).
posted by IAmBroom at 11:45 AM on March 10

So it wouldn't be ludicrously off-beam to say that 30 years from now, it may well be possible to store an amount of data equivalent to the current contents of the internet in a space the size of a pen?
posted by Sebmojo at 7:03 PM on March 10

It's not an absurdly optimistic extrapolation, but it does assume that all current trends hold, and they clearly cannot continue indefinitely - if they did, in four times however long it takes to get that information into a pen-sized object, we'd be able to store all that data in a single atom!

So when will things slow down? Who knows, but we're close enough to this that it could quite reasonably come into play in the next 30 years - at least to slow down the increase in data capacities.
posted by aubilenon at 7:55 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]

Not sure why you seem to believe that information could never be intentionally written to DNA.

That is not what I said. I simply explained why I assumed that the ability to read and write to the storage device was part of the hypothetical.

I am aware of scientists writing books to DNA (although not R/W). I am also aware of scanning electronic microscopes that can see individual atoms. However, just because something is possible in the laboratory does not mean it is feasible as a consumer product. While the technology exists to write one's name in atoms, there is no indication it is will scale down in terms of costs or size so that it will fit in a consumer's pocket. The practical considerations are going to cap data storage density before the physical considerations do.
posted by Tanizaki at 12:52 PM on March 11

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