4 months ago- Knowledge -
The recording of our histories has been a dynamic process. We begun to physically represent remembering over 200,000 years ago (just as humans were appearing genetically as we do now) with rock-art. As us humans and our societies have developed, so has our information, its complexity and the sheer amount that we produce. From our prehistoric carved-records there has been an ever-accelerating drive of progress, foundational developments of writing and paper allowed information to be accurately recorded like never before. The invention of the printing-press (whomever that invention may be credited to) saw distribution and accessibility to information like never before. Within the modern era it’s hard to exaggerate the effect of the digital revolution to information, computers and the internet seem to be like the advent of writing, paper and the printing press all in one. The development of digital technologies have created our glossy, democratized, user-friendly present reality of information, but does this user-friendliness come at the cost of permanence? Will my selfies be visible in 200,000 years or should I grab my chisel and head to the nearest cave?
We humans have (or our grand narrative has) an innate desire to be remembered, to share our stories to people not even in existence, for as long as producing data we have been inventing new ways to record and store it. Digital innovation has meant greater convenience, lower costs, increased storage capacity and longer life spans, but not all devices are created equal. Even with the utmost care, media fails leaving us with a uselessly piece of metal or plastic and mear memories of our data. The following statistics are taken from crashplan.com, even though a cloud-storage service, lets hope their data is unbiased. Often lost long before they fail USB flash drives, utilizing flash memory technology can last as long as 10 years with regular use. HDD’s (what is most likely spinning in your laptop or extended hard-drive right now) magnetic ones and zeros can be read for as long as 34 years. SSDs, the technology looking like it will make HDDs redundant, have a life-expectancy of 51 years, extended possibly to over 100 years with extreme care or lack of use. Solid state data memory also utilized in SD and other memory cards has the advantage that is deteriorates with use not time, so it may be the perfect candidate for a digital time-capsule. Cloud storage promises to be the newest storage convenience, instead of owning your storage space, you rent it from a datacenter (Apple, Amazon, Google), while these datacenter servers are a combination of HDDs and SDDs, they offer the advantage of optimal care and management and eventual replacement, guaranteeing permanence as long as I dutifully pay for my space on their servers.
Data is recorded and available at an unprecedented level, the internet has equalized information, we all have the ability to create, contribute to and access humanity’s record pool. Permanence and accuracy describe precisely the process of recording information on blockchain. Transaction data recorded to the blockchain is immutable, secure and transparent, surely a perfect format for the storing of data, our history, our information, our human story and its preservation for the future.
So will blockchain be the archive of the future? Probably not.
Public blockchains such as Bitcoin and Ethereum allow very small amounts of data be recorded in each transaction for example Bitcoin is limited to 1 MB of data per block. Blocks have a finite size due to the proof-of-work mechanism at the heart of blockchains security. Confirmation of a block takes very complex computations, becoming increasingly more complex as the amount of data is increased. Computation takes large amounts of electricity for miners. Therefore the larger amount of data being added to the block the more time consuming and financially costly it will be. As of 2017, storing 1 kB of data in the public Bitcoin blockchain, as per conversion rates, was approximately $2.11 USD. The average size of a word document is 100 kB depending on length. It’s pretty obvious this doesn’t make financial sense.
There are plenty of decentralized-cloud-storage services that are ‘blockchain powered’, one of these projects is https://storj.io/. The Storj decentralized storage network is supported by community members spare hard-drive space. A user’s data is encrypted and shared across the network, customers pay, using the systems native token STORJ, for utilizing storage on other users computers, these nodes are compensated for the storage space they provide. As a decentralized sharing-economy of data storage, Storj circumvents large data centers such as Google or Amazon. The distributed nature of the network is also able to support faster data retrieval as it isn’t funnelled from a single point. Storj and other projects like it use technologies commonly used in blockchain systems such as merkle trees, hashes and digital signatures. While Storj’s secured and shared data pursuits are valiant and their project and other like them will be able to disrupt big-data’s centralized control, none of the projects truly store data on blockchains.
While blockchain is not a viable storage solution, it has not stopped fellows from storing data on public blockchains. In fact the Genesis block, the very first block of Bitcoin contains a message in the coinbase field, a special field used as the sole input for coinbase transactions, it provides up to 100 bytes for arbitrary data. The message stored in the Genesis block? - 'The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks' presumably political commentary on Bitcoin compared to the insolvency of ‘real’ banks.
SO what is the best solution to make those selfies last forever?
In a 2015 Digital Trends article, Dr Altman, an information science expert, suggests a multi-pronged strategy to give your data the best chance at permanence, using at least two cloud-storage services and something called an ‘explicit succession plan’, but that is a totally boring way to end this, so I suggest something called eternal 5D data storage. Developed by the University of Southampton, the ultracool-looking-coin-sized pieces of crystal has data written onto it by laser in five dimensions (read the article to understand that). They not only have a storage capacity of 360 terabytes per disk, they survive temperatures of 1000°C, and get this have a virtually unlimited lifetime at room temperature, 13.8 billion years at 190°C (why the quoted temperature is 190°C, I have no idea)! So yeah, store your selfies there!