Back in the late 80s, I had a computer. It ran at a stunning 12 Mhz. It had the max 640k of memory. I paid over $300 for a 20 Megabyte hard drive. It was the boss machine of the entire city at the time.
Let’s compare to my current cell phone. My cell phone has a 1 gigahertz CPU, that’s almost 100 times faster than that old PC. The cell has 812 megabytes of memory, that is over 100 times the old PC. It has 32 gigabytes of storage, that’s 150 times the storage of my old PC. All-in-all, the cell phone was cheaper and way smaller.
My current PC is about 5 years old (sigh)** and still blows my phone away.
Of course, the actual computing power is even more impressive because of increases in bus speed, channel width (64 bit vs. 8 bit), and load sharing systems (CPU cache, coprocessors, and Graphics Processing Units).
But that all pales in comparison to the actual data that these modern devices have to deal with.
The top-of-line Operating system on that first PC fit onto a 512k floppy disk with room to spare. My Windows folder takes up 19 Gigabytes (not including the swap file). That’s an increase of 38,000 times.
My first digital camera took pictures that were about 200 kilobytes. My wife’s, very mid-range digital camera takes, at max resolution, a picture that’s 4 gigabytes. A 20,000 times increase.
Video files (which didn’t even exist back then) are pretty large. One hour of HD video is 2 gigabytes. That would have taken 100 of those 20 megabyte hard drives. Yet, my terabyte hard drive can hold several seasons of HD TV shows with room to spare.
It has been estimated that our modern society(2010) creates the same amount of information that all of the human race created from the dawn of knowledge to 2003… every 2 days.
It was estimated that in the year 2000, the human race created 2,120,000 TERABYTES of information. That is increasing at an almost logarithmic rate (i.e. freaking fast).
The Large Hadron Collider (super collider project at CERN) will produce 15 Petabytes of information per year. A petabyte is a million gigabytes. In other words, it will take 15,000 of my 1 terabyte hard drives to store the information generated by CERN in just one year. And all that data has to be analyzed. As an example of the size of this project. CERN will collect more information in one year than the entire human race produced from the beginning to 2003.
The world’s effective capacity to exchange information through two-way telecommunication networks was 281 petabytes of (optimally compressed) information in 1986, 471 petabytes in 1993, 2,200 petabytes in 2000, and 65,000 (optimally compressed) petabytes in 2007 (this is the informational equivalent to every person exchanging 6 newspapers per day).
This is just a stunning amount of information.
What does this mean?
It means that you can’t keep up. Here’s some interesting future estimates from Cisco. This is my favorite:
It would take over 5 years to watch the amount of video that will cross global IP networks every second in 2015. Every second, 1 million minutes of video content will cross the network in 2015.
That’s ummm… four years away.
Unless humans get a better load sharing system (in our brains, not on our laptops), then I predict that human race will become ever more fractured and specific. Between ads tailored for you and thousands of specialist websites, it will get to the point where all you have time for is things that are directly related to you. It will soon get to the point where you have more in common with people on other continents than you will with people in your living room. (It already is that way, just few people realize it.)
The world is changing and it is changing faster than we can keep up. It’s an exciting and frightening time.
** I really want to upgrade. I’ve already specced it out. Six core AMD CPU, 8 gigs of memory, new motherboard with integrated SSD for the OS, and twin 2-terabyte HDDs. Total cost, less than $1000 with a new case. The 2 terabyte hard drives are the cheapest thing on the list (both together, not each).