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Music, Science Fiction, Survival, Technology

Billion Year Data Storage

How can my 100 original song project be enjoyed by whatever humans exist in one million years? For starters, I’ll need very long term data storage. To make the million year mark with a margin for safety, one option may be storage on tungsten disks.

There will likely come a day when humanity itself has shuffled off the mortal coil, leaving behind nothing but data to list our accomplishments. However, most of the data storage methods we currently have only last a few decades if we’re lucky. The accumulated history of mankind surely deserves more longevity than that, doesn’t it? A team of Dutch and German researchers have developed a technology that could hold readable data for up to 1 billion years. That ought to give someone a chance to find it and learn how great we were.

If you want data to last for a long time, all the fancy high-density hard drives and magnetic media is right out the window. These technologies can be corrupted over time and rely on moving parts that may simply fail by the time a future society finds the physical storage medium. The team approached the problem of super-long-term data storage from an angle of optical consistency. The first step was to devise a material that could remain stable for eons.

The team settled on elemental tungsten because it has a very high melting point of 3,422 degrees Celsius and low thermal expansion. Basically, if you build something out of tungsten, it will remain mostly unchanged over time. Tungsten is somewhat malleable, though, so the researchers encapsulated the metal in silicon nitride. This inert solid is durable and is transparent to light, which allows the tungsten pattern to be visualized.

The optical disk developed by the researchers employs an increasingly common type of 2D matrix barcode called a QR code. You’ve probably seen them on product packaging and in advertisements. It’s a way to encode a block of text that can be read with today’s mobile devices, but the underlying binary nature of a QR code should be understood by any sufficiently advanced society in a post-human future. QR codes also have built-in error correction, which is useful when

you’re too extinct to make corrections.


I like to consider the possibility that humanity is already extinct and that my existence is already one of pure data.

In that case, my long term goal is already be accomplished. Baring some disaster or my untimely demise, not only do my 100 songs get passed on, but also my entire existence, every thought and the full experience of their creation, including all of the bad drafts, completely discarded songs, etc. This is the playback. One of how many?

How long do you think our simulation has been running, in Earth years?

How, within a simulation, within the playback of data, could a sim know how many years have passed since he or she actually lived? Perhaps there is a live connection to the real ship or device that is playing me, accessible instantly by thoughts. Is it 10,423, the first number that comes to mind? Is that years? Or million years? “Neither” is the answer I get.



About Xeno

E pluribus unum.


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