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Hitachi Plans to Store Data for a Few Hundred Million Years

by Hu Yoshida on Sep 28, 2012

Just as the Rosetta Stone preserved data in stone for a few thousand of years, Hitachi plans to preserve data in quartz for a few hundred million years.

Hitachi researchers have announced a method to store digital data on slivers of quartz material, which should be able to store this data indefinitely under almost any environmental condition without any degradation.

The quartz prototype is a 2 cm square by 2 mm thick piece where data is recorded in 4 layers of dots, which can hold 40 MB per square inch. This is not much compared to the 1 TB per square inch that will be available from HDD HAMR technology. However, Hitachi researchers believe that adding more layers to increase density is possible.

It’s all well and good to record data, but how can you retrieve it and make sense of the information thousands of years into the future? The Rosetta Stone had the same information recorded in two different languages and three different scripts including hieroglyphics that served as a translation table. Luckily one of the languages was still understood by scholars who could read and interpret the information. Today there is a universal language, which is binary. So any computer that can be programmed to read binary should be able to interpret the data any time into the future. Retrieving data from the quartz would require an optical microscope, which would be analogous to having a scholar capable of reading the inscriptions in the stone.

The durability of the quartz should make it possible to preserve information even through cataclysmic events like tsunamis, fires and floods, as long as the Quartz sliver is not broken. Even then it might be possible to piece it back together like a broken stone tablet.

Hitachi did not announce any immediate plans to put this chip to practical use, but I already know of some very large data stores that cannot afford the power and floor space to retain their data with today’s storage technologies. Even removable media like tape and optical, need power to maintain an environmentally controlled storage area.

The future of storage may be quartz. And by the “future,” Hitachi is talking hundreds of millions of years.

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Comments (3 )

Elmar Flammee on 30 Sep 2012 at 9:52 pm

It`s sounds a little bit like supermans dome where he find all the data of his family and from krypton. But at the end this is the answer of a lot of questions. The first step must be to store the data safe. The next step must be to find ways to preserve “keys” to encrypt data in 100 hundred years. This will be then rather like decrypt maya or egypt code. The most important step is to safe the origin data for the next generation of mankind.

Hu Yoshida on 08 Oct 2012 at 9:54 am

Hello Elmar, thanks for the comment. What distinguishes us as humans, despite our limited life time of a few score years, is our desire is to pass our knowledge, hopes and dreams to future generations. Information like this I would not encrypt, but make it easily available to all who care to build on these thoughts.

[...] The technology stores digital data on slivers of quartz material, which should can store this data “indefinitely” under almost any environmental condition without degradation, the company’s vice president and CTO Hu Yoshida, noted in a blog post. [...]

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