In 200 Years, Half of the Planet's Mass Could Be Made of Digital Bits in 'Invisible Crisis'

A scientist building on the theory that "bits" of information have mass says the world is facing an "invisible crisis" as the growth of data is unstoppable.

A new academic study revealed today, titled "The Information Catastrophe," suggests that if "bits" of information have very small quantities of physical mass, projections indicate digital content could be equal to roughly half of Earth's mass by 2245.

The objective of the research, published in AIP Advances, was to estimate what the total amount of digital content in the world will be in the future in terms of bits and the energy needed to store them, author Dr. Melvin M. Vopson told Newsweek.

The research suggests that, if verified, the influx of digital content mass would strain not only the planetary energy supply, but also the mass of the planet itself.

"If we look only at the magnetic data storage density, it doubled every year for over 50 years," the scientist explained, describing the study's implications.

"This doubling was necessary to keep up with the data storage requirement, growing faster than Moore's Law, i.e. the number of transistors in integrated circuits doubles every two years. In some ways, the current COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this process, as more digital content is used and produced than ever before.

"The projections show that we are going to produce so much digital content in the near future that the number of bits produced would equal all the atoms on Earth.

"Where do we store this information? How do we power this? It's a wake up call for the big data industries, internet giants, tech companies, energy research and environmental research. I call this the invisible crisis, as today it is truly an invisible problem."

Binary digits, or bits, are units of information in the field of computing that are typically used to represent two values, for example 0/ 1 or true/false. In 2019, Vopson suggested a new principle proposing that "bits" of information have quantifiable mass.

Drawing on fundamentals of Einstein's theory of general relativity, the principle, outlined in a paper last year, was described as "mass-energy-information equivalence."

According to Dr. Vopson, the use of Earth's resources to power computers and process data may be redistributing matter from physical atoms to digital information.

While the total calculated mass of all the information we produce yearly on Earth was described by the scientist as being "extremely insignificant and impossible to notice," the production of digital information is rapidly increasing every year.

The study suggests that information may be a "physical, dominant, fifth state of matter" like liquid, solid, gas and plasma. At 50 percent growth per year, by the year 2245, half of the planet's mass could be made up of digital bits, the researcher said.

"This research will definitely stimulate and accelerate the development of alternative methods of storing digital information," Dr. Vopson told Newsweek.

"Essentially we would need to develop completely new technologies for data storage where information is not stored in material things. Instead, information could be stored in non-material media such as photons, vacuum, holographic, etc.

"Developing technologies would solve the number of bits problem and the size issue. However, it is not clear what the implications are if the information truly has mass.

"A strong impact of this research is also expected in fundamental physics. One direction of interest would be development of experiential techniques to test the [2019 principle], i.e. to prove or disprove that information has mass."

"This is extremely important because, if confirmed, it will radically change many branches of physics and will help explain a number of scientific unsolved mysteries. One of them is the nature of Dark Matter, which has been hypothesized to be just bits associated with information content of the baryonic matter," Dr. Vopson added.

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“The projections show that we are going to produce so much digital content in the near future that the number of bits produced would equal all the atoms on Earth," Dr. Melvin M. Vopson told Newsweek. iStock