Prepare for some mind-boggling numbers. A new study has estimated how much information there is in the world in terms of how much humankind is able to store, communicate and compute. Looking at the period from 1986 to 2007, the study is the first to quantify humankind’s ability to handle information and how it has changed in the past two decades. But despite the monumental figures, the numbers still pale in comparison to the order of magnitude with which nature handles information.
From 1986 to 2007 storage capacity grew at a rate of 23 percent a year. In 2002, worldwide digital storage capacity overtook analog capacity for the first time and within five short years, almost 94 percent of humankind’s information storage was in digital form – a figure that is sure to be even higher now.
Looking at two-way communications, such as mobile phones, it was calculated that 65 exabytes of information was shared through telecommunications in 2007. That’s equivalent to every person in the world communicating the contents of six newspapers every day.
The study’s lead author, Martin Hilbert, a USC Provost's fellow at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, says that these numbers are still miniscule compared to the order of magnitude at which nature handles information. However, the information processing capabilities of the natural world remains fairly constant, while the world’s technological capacities are growing at exponential rates. And you thought you were suffering information overload now.
The study appeared this month in Science Express.
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