Billion-year storage?

What would you say about data storage with a lifetime of billions of years? I’d say that extraordinary claims require extraordinary support. The University of Southampton’s Optoelectronics Research Center says it’s developed digital storage that will last for 13.8 billion years at 190° C — or at least that’s how it came out in the report. Peter Kazansky says “we have created the first document which will likely survive the human race.” (And the death of the Sun?)

monolithI’d treat the claim with at least as much caution as a claim of cold fusion. A couple of years ago I wrote a science fiction story with such a device as its central premise; people to whom I described the story pointed out the difficulties, including the question of how something could be writable, yet tough enough to last while a planet evolved intelligence. It doesn’t help that the article calls 190° C “room temperature” and that it makes unexplained references to “five-dimensional digital data” storing 360 terabytes. They call it the “Superman memory crystal.” Wouldn’t the “Mxyzptlk memory crystal” be more appropriate? It’s made not out of some super-strong Kryptonian material, but of quartz glass. Over a period of billions of years, the device would have to survive planetary catastrophes. Even if it all works, there’s the question of how some future intelligent species would decipher 5D storage.

Some digging turned up a 2013 article on “5D Data Storage by Ultrafast Laser Nanostructuring in Glass” by Jingyu Zhang, Mindaugas Gecevičius, Martynas Beresna, and Peter G. Kazansky. The two extra dimensions are “slow axis orientation” and “strength of retardance.” I don’t know what they mean, but some searching shows they really are terms used in laser technology.

If this is a real datalith, I’d love it, but I’m skeptical.

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