Digital content could exceed Earth's mass by 2245
An article published in AIP Advances has found that our usage of resources such as coal, oil, natural gas, copper, silicon and aluminium to power massive computer farms and process digital information is redistributing Earth’s matter from physical atoms to digital information — the fifth state of matter, alongside liquid, solid, gas and plasma. The article predicts that eventually, we will reach a point of full saturation, a period in evolution in which digital bits will outnumber atoms on Earth, a world “mostly computer simulated and dominated by digital bits and computer code”.
“We are literally changing the planet bit by bit, and it is an invisible crisis,” said author Melvin Vopson.
Vopson examined the factors driving this digital evolution, and said the impending limit on the number of bits, the energy to produce them, and the distribution of physical and digital mass will overwhelm the planet. Using current data storage densities, the number of bits produced per year and the size of a bit compared to the size of an atom, at a rate of 50% annual growth, would see the number of bits equal the number of atoms on Earth in approximately 150 years. The article also predicts that it will take approximately 130 years until the power needed to sustain digital information creation will equal all the power currently produced on Earth. By 2245, half of Earth’s mass will be converted to digital information mass.
“The growth of digital information seems truly unstoppable. According to IBM and other big data research sources, 90% of the world’s data today has been created in the last 10 years alone. In some ways, the current COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this process as more digital content is used and produced than ever before,” Vopson said.
Vopson drew on the mass-energy equivalence in Einstein’s theory of general relativity, the work of Rolf Landauer, who applied the laws of thermodynamics to information, and the work of Claude Shannon, the inventor of the digital bit. In 2019, Vopson formulated a principle that suggests that information moves between states of mass and energy just like any other matter.
“The mass-energy-information equivalence principle builds on these concepts and opens up a huge range of new physics, especially in cosmology. When one brings information content into existing physical theories, it is almost like an extra dimension to everything in physics,” Vopson said.
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