Metanexus Blog: Thinking Big

Big Love Meets Big Brother and Even Bigger Numbers

This month's Wired magazine has a cover story by James Bamford on the National Security Agency's new digital surveillance network and the new $2 billion, 1 million square foot facility in Bluffdale, Utah.  

The article is another reminder that there is no such thing as digital privacy. Your life is an open book. What particularly struck me about the article was the scale of digital information generated and the terminology thereof.

We've gone from kilobytes to megabytes to gigabytes to terabytes, but when you start collecting all of the digital information running through cables and bouncing off satellites, we will soon reach a yottabyte (1024 bytes or a septillion bytes). What's worth a yotta these days?

    • The mass of the Earth is 5973.6 Yg (or 5.9736 Zt).
       
    • The total power output of the Sun is approximately 385 YW.
       
    • The known universe is estimated to be 880 Ym in diameter. 

As Bamford writes:

global Internet traffic will quadruple from 2010 to 2015, reaching 966 exabytes per year. (A million exabytes equal a yottabyte.) In terms of scale, Eric Schmidt, Google's former CEO, once estimated that the total of all human knowledge created from the dawn of man to 2003 totaled 5 exabytes. And the data flow shows non sign of slowing. In 2011 more than 2 billion of the world's 6.9 billion people were connected to the Internet. By 2015 ... there will be 2.7 billion users. Thus, the NSA's need for a 1-million-square-foot data storehouse. Should the agency ever fill the Utah center with a yottabyte of information, it would be equal to about 500 quintillion (500,000,000,000,000,000,000) pages of text.

As of 2009, the entire Internet was estimated to contain close to 500 exabytes—enough that, if printed and bound into books to form a stack, would stretch from Earth to Pluto 10 times. The NSA, of course, is not just monitoring Internet traffic, but also telephone and satellite communications.

So as the saying goes "Please consider the environment before printing ..."

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