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The Mind-Boggling Information Processing Capacity Of Our World

Martin Hilbert of the University of Southern California carried out a study to discover just how much information does humankind store and compute.

Naresh Kumar
Naresh Kumar on February 23, 2011.

Have you ever stopped to think how much information are we able to handle and how much more of it is there in the world now as compared to 20 years ago? University of Southern California’s Martin Hilbert led a study into calculating the total digital information-processing capacity of humankind, and the revealed figures are astounding to say the least.

Consider this: In 2007, around 1.9 zettabytes of information was broadcasted through televisions and GPS the world over. To put it into perspective, this information is equivalent to each person in the world reading 174 newspapers daily. Or that we shared 65 exabytes (1 EB=1 billion gigabytes) of information through telecommunications such as phones in 2007.

Here are some more staggering numbers from the study:

• Looking at both digital memory and analog devices, the researchers calculate that humankind is able to store at least 295 exabytes of information. (Yes, that’s a number with 20 zeroes in it.)

• In 2007, all the general-purpose computers in the world computed 6.4 x 10^18 instructions per second, in the same general order of magnitude as the number of nerve impulses executed by a single human brain. Doing these instructions by hand would take 2,200 times the period since the Big Bang.

• From 1986 to 2007, the period of time examined in the study, worldwide computing capacity grew 58 percent a year, 10 times faster than the United States’ gross domestic product.

• Telecommunications grew 28 percent annually and storage capacity grew 23 percent a year.

Hilbert talks about his research in the video below:


How much information can the world store, communicate, and compute? from SCVideos on Vimeo.

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