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How Much Information Can Earth Hold?

By Scientific American

July 27, 2015

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Exploring how much information the Earth can store offers insights into the manifestation of order in the universe, in particular that information expands over time, writes Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor Cesar A. Hidalgo, who leads the Macro Connnections group at the MIT Media Lab.

Hidalgo says applying MIT professor Seth Lloyd's formula for calculating the information storage capacity of physical systems leads to the conclusion the planet can store approximately 1 trillion trillion trillion trillion gigabits, and the current volume of stored information equals only a fraction of Earth's capacity. The observation demonstrates the difficulty of generating, maintaining, and combining information, in keeping with the universe's hostility to the emergence of order.

However, order still emerges, not least because of the capacity of matter to compute. Moreover, the gradual growth of information is explained by the expansion on Earth of both biomass and cultural information. Matter, and order, existed before the emergence of humans, but since then much more order has been added via the solidification of imagined objects.

Contributing to the growth of information requires people forming networks that can compute products, since systems' computational capacities are finite. Humans' ability to produce information via networking is partly limited by historical, institutional, and technological forces, but hyperconnectivity enabled by technological advancement and human-machine integration should help overcome these obstacles and continue the growth of information.

From Scientific American
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Abstracts Copyright © 2015 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA

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