Hitachi reveals way of storing information for millions of years

Hitachi reveals way of storing information for millions of years

Summary: The ultra long-term storage technology uses a laser to encode data into a piece of quartz glass that can be read back by an optical microscope, and could last hundreds of millions of years, though it can't store a lot of information.

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Hitachi has developed a way of storing data that it says can keep information stable for hundreds of millions of years.

The quartz glass storage method was announced by Hitachi's chief executive officer, Hiroaki Nakanishi, in Tokyo on Monday.

"The volume of data being created every day is exploding, but in terms of keeping it for later generations, we haven't necessarily improved since the days we inscribed things on stones," Hitachi researcher Kazuyoshi Torii said, according to Agence France-Presse.

The technology uses a laser to stipple a piece of quartz glass with dots that correspond to binary code. An optical microscope can be used to read the information off the glass. 

Hitachi is confident of the longevity of the storage method because it heated one of the bits of glass to a temperature of 1,000° Celsius for two hours and was able to read all of the information back. Consequently, the company says, the technology should be able to preserve data for hundreds of millions of years. 

In comparison, the hard drive in your computer will probably fail inside 10 years. A frequently used flash drive can last around half as long, however, while storage's darling, tape, can last for 15 to 30 years.

Hitachi expects the new technology will be used for long-term data archives of cultural information, among other things. However, the density with which it can store data is poor.

The technology supports storing data in four layers on a quartz slab and, in tests, was able to store around 40MB per square inch. A modern hard drive can store up to one terabit per square inch.

Hitachi plans to give more information on the technology at the International Symposium on Optical Memory in Tokyo, Japan on September 30. At the time of writing, the company had not published information in English outlining the technology, but a Google translation from the original Japanese can be found here.

Topics: Storage, Emerging Tech

Jack Clark

About Jack Clark

Currently a reporter for ZDNet UK, I previously worked as a technology researcher and reporter for a London-based news agency.

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31 comments
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  • A pin, Braille and duct tape?

    And how would that compare to a pin, Braille, and some duct tape? Less data density, but you don't need the microscope ...

    What if the crystal cracks?
    Rick_R
    • Think duct tape might not take the temperature...

      Hey Rick_R,
      Thanks for commenting. I think that laser allows for greater miniaturisation and quartz gives you better temp durability than duct tape, but I take your point that we don't have much information at this point. I'm hoping to get some more info from Hitachi Japan soon and will be writing up the paper on the technology if one comes out at the conference. Thanks for commenting!
      Jack Clark
    • What if the crystal cracks?

      I guess it would be like a torn up page from an old document, you'll be missing some letters or words but the overall content will not be that much broken.

      Also, in another article I read about this, Hitachi mentioned that augmenting density shouldn't be a problem, this is still in early stage of development.
      lepoete73
    • Let me introduce you to entropy

      He's this annoying little guy that pretty much guarantee everything degrades over time. You can't get rid of him, so you learn to deal with him by making copies faster than he can destroy them.
      baggins_z
      • Marketers make terrible scientists

        I love it when people with very little scientific training start making definitive scientific statements.
        dinomutt
      • And even when you make copies faster than he can destroy them...

        ...you make copy errors and he gets you anyway with cancer.
        cornpie
  • Did this article just say my data on my drive will fail whithin 10years ?

    Did this article just say my data on my drive will fail whithin 10years ? If so, I can tell you the drive in my amiga 500 still works (21yrs old) and the drive inside my 486 still works fine, as a matter of fact I played "agent" (really old platform game) on it this morning. (20yrs old)
    DJK2
    • In rely to myself by lack of edit button

      If those 2 drives build 2 decades ago still work fine.. I would guess a far newer drive in my current rig has .. another 20+ years left ?
      DJK2
    • Older, slower, better

      I'm guessing, older drives, lower data density = longer life.
      seekmocha
      • Sustained use leads to drive failure...

        Hello DJK2,
        One of the main things that determines the life of a storage medium is how frequently data is read or written onto it. Tests typically show that modern hard drives can only withstand 5 to 10 years of consistent everyday use before failing. As to seekmocha's point, I am not as familiar with the drives in the Amiga and the 486 so I can't speak to their reliability.
        Thanks very much for commenting!
        JC
        Jack Clark
    • Hmm...

      Yes, by all means your Amiga drives experience allows for broad extrapolation to the entire hard drive population.
      ejhonda
  • Information value is bounded by time.

    Any information that is 100 Million years old may have little value, and may
    not even be interpreted st information after this long.... Evolution, language, technology,
    and entropy will erase it's significance to that of blowing dust in the wind.
    Iozone
    • Not necessarily true

      Sure much of our information may be irrelevant during a time so distant from now, but records like these could provide valuable insights into our civilization as it exists today to any potential future civilizations (human or otherwise). Archeologists would be ecstatic if they were able to find vast stores of information containing color pictures, audio, and video of passed cultures. It is quite possible that this could be the case for archeologists of a different age looking back on us.
      Chupathingy
      • no colour, pictures or audio is stored

        just dots or no dots or occlusion, no occlusion or whatever the laser does to the quartz. Certainly no colours and certainly no audio.
        The future scientist needs to firstly read the pattern with some kind of microscope, then interpret the pattern.
        If the heiroglyphs we found only included two types of glyph - even if we found millions of them - would we have been able to interpret them?
        Mytheroo
  • Hey! Get that hammer out of here!

    And Windex probably fogs quartz.
    Vesicant
  • Already obsolete

    Harvard has recently been able to store data using DNA. Basically A and C = 0 while T and G = 1. Using this method it is possible to store 700 TB of data in 1 gram of DNA. It also lasts hundreds of thousands of years. Sure this quartz method might last a bit longer, but from a practical stand point using DNA makes a lot more sense as you can store ridiculous amounts of data in an extremely small space.
    Chupathingy
    • Add it to bacteria to make it eternal

      If you added those sequences to a enough life forms' junk DNA and spread them around, the information will survive outside the lab for the foreseeable future. All you would need to read it is to swab a nose or wipe a floor and run a merge on similarity to retrieve it. They have found junk DNA matches in all life forms that most likely came from a shared ancestor billions of years ago. Seems reliable to me.
      Robert Harvey-Kinsey
      • Junk DNA?

        Who says lifeforms have junk DNA? - it may just be the complete knowledge of the civilization of Atlantis (or whoever) but we are just too stupid to read it yet ;-)
        bigroj
    • Familiar with harvard, but a couple of differences

      Hey Chupgathingy,
      I wrote up the story on the Harvard DNA breakthrough. To my mind, it's probably a bit more optimistic to think that in a million years anyone who finds this data would be able to use a piece of (relatively) cheap optical equipment to find it stippled with a dot pattern and then hopefully figure out this was some kind of information store. Organic matter doesn't innately suggest itself as an artificial data store. But there I go trying to second guess the thoughts of living beings a million years from now, so it might be impossible to say.
      JC
      Jack Clark
  • I can think of a better way.

    I am not sure that heat alone is the only problem here. What about radiation from within and without. It would seem to me over time that any static object is bound to develop particle decay damage.

    Then there is the ability of such a fragile object to survive disaster. Over that sort of time frame, it is likely that every single surface of this planet will have some form of disaster. This object better be real lucky. Burying it is not an option as over that time frame the very earth it is in would most likely be warped or melted.
    Robert Harvey-Kinsey