Think you're overloaded with information? Not even close.
A study appearing on Feb. 10 in Science Express, an electronic journal that provides select Science articles ahead of print, calculates the world's total technological capacity — how much information humankind is able to store, communicate and compute.
"We live in a world where economies, political freedom and cultural growth increasingly depend on our technological capabilities," said lead author Martin Hilbert of the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. "This is the first time-series study to quantify humankind's ability to handle information."
So how much information is there in the world? How much has it grown?
Prepare for some big numbers:
Put another way, if a single star is a bit of information, that's a galaxy of information for every person in the world. That's 315 times the number of grains of sand in the world. But it's still less than one percent of the information that is stored in all the DNA molecules of a human being.
Telecommunications grew 28 percent annually, and storage capacity grew 23 percent a year.
"These numbers are impressive, but still miniscule compared to the order of magnitude at which nature handles information" Hilbert said. "Compared to nature, we are but humble apprentices. However, while the natural world is mind-boggling in its size, it remains fairly constant. In contrast, the world's technological information processing capacities are growing at exponential rates."
Priscila Lopez of the Open University of Catalonia was co-author of the study.
An embargoed video of Martin Hilbert explaining the results of his study is available on a password-protected site, http://www.vimeo.com/album/1527374. Password is: trojan.
To arrange an interview or request an embargoed copy of the full paper, contact Suzanne Wu at firstname.lastname@example.org.
M. Hilbert and P. Lopez, "The world's technological capacity to store, communicate and compute information," Science Express: Feb. 10, 2011.
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