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World's stored data approaches 300 exabytes


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Study finds digital revolution sweeps away analogue

A study by the University of Southern California has estimated that the total amount of world’s data storage stood at 295 exabytes (295bn gigabytes) by 2007.

The researchers compiled estimates of the data stored in 60 analogue and digital formats, ranging from paper and books through to servers and data held on credit cards or x-rays. They estimated that between 1986 and 2007 the world’s data storage capacity was 295 exabytes.

"If we were to take all that information and store it in books, we could cover the entire area of the US or China in three layers of books," Martin Hilbert of the University of Southern California told the BBC's Science in Action.

The paper noted that there had been a revolution in the switch from analogue to digital storage of data. In 2000 three quarters of all human data was in analogue format, but just seven years later the digitally stored data made up 94 per cent of the total.

“There have been other revolutions before," said Hilbert.

"The car changed society completely, or electricity. Every 40, 50 or 60 years something grows faster than anything else, and right now it's information.

"Basically what you can do with information is transmit it through space, and we call that communication. You can transmit it through time; we call that storage. Or you can transform it, manipulate it, change the meaning of it, and we call that computation."

For the period of the study global computing power rose by 58 per cent annually, but globally there is a growing information gap. In 2002 people in the developed world could communicate eight times as much data as those in the developing world, but this rose to 15 times by 2007.

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