Tiny ‘Atomic Memory’ Device Could Store All Books Ever Written

A new “atomic memory” device that encodes data atom by atom can store hundreds of times more data than current hard disks can, a new study finds.

You would need just the area of a postage stamp to write out all books ever written,” said study senior author Sander Otte, a physicist at the Delft University of Technology’s Kavli Institute of Nanoscience in the Netherlands.

In fact, the researchers estimated that if they created a cube 100 microns wide — about the same diameter as the average human hair — made of sheets of atomic memory separated from one another by 5 nanometers, or billionths of a meter, the cube could easily store the contents of the entire U.S. Library of Congress.

As the world generates more data, researchers are seeking ways to store all of that information in as little space as possible. The new atomic memory devices that researchers developed can store more than 500 trillion bits of data per square inch (6.45 square centimeters) — about 500 times more data than the best commercial hard disk currently available, according to the scientists who created the new devices.

The scientists created their atomic memory device using a scanning tunneling microscope, which uses an extremely sharp needle to scan over surfaces just as a blind person would run his or her fingers over a page of braille to read it. Scanning tunneling microscope probes can not only detect atoms, but also nudge them around.

Computers represent data as 1s and 0s — binary digits known as bits that they express by flicking tiny, switch-like transistors either on or off. The new atomic memory device represents each bit as two possible locations on a copper surface; a chlorine atom can slide back and forth between these two positions, the researchers explained.

“If the chlorine atom is in the top position, there is a hole beneath it — we call this a 1,” Otte said in a statement. “If the hole is in the top position and the chlorine atom is therefore on the bottom, then the bit is a 0.” (Each square hole is about 25 picometers, or trillionths of a meter, deep.)

The bits are separated from one another by rows of other chlorine atoms. These rows could keep the bits in place for more than 40 hours, the scientists found. This system of packing atoms together is far more stable and reliable than atomic memory strategies that employ loose atoms, the researchers said.

These atoms were organized into 127 blocks of 64 bits. Each block was labeled with a marker of holes. These markers are similar to the QR codes now often used in ads and tickets. These markers can label the precise location of each block on the copper surface.

The markers can also label a block as damaged; perhaps this damage was caused by some contaminant or flaw in the copper surface — about 12 percent of blocks are not suitable for data storage because of such problems, according to the researchers. All in all, this orderly system of markers could help atomic memory scale up to very large sizes, even if the copper surface the data is encoded on is not entirely perfect, they said.

All in all, the scientists noted that this proof-of-principle device significantly outperforms current state-of-the-art hard drives in terms of storage capacity.

As impressive as creating atomic memory devices is, Otte said that for him, “The most important implication is not at all the data storage itself.”

Instead, for Otte, atomic memory simply demonstrates how well scientists can now engineer devices on the level of atoms. “I cannot, at this point, foresee where this will lead, but I am convinced that it will be much more exciting than just data storage,” Otte said.

“Just stop and think for a moment how far we got as humans that we can now engineer things with this amazing level of precision, and wonder about the possibilities that it may give,” Otte said.

Reading a block of bits currently takes about 1 minute, and rewriting a block of bits currently requires about 2 minutes, the researchers said. However, they noted that it’s possible to speed up this system by making probes move faster over the surfaces of these atomic memory devices, potentially for read-and-write speeds on the order of 1 million bits per second.

Still, the researchers cautioned that atomic memory will not record data in large-scale data centers anytime soon. Currently, these atomic memory devices only work in very clean vacuum environments where they cannot become contaminated, and require cooling by liquid nitrogen to supercold temperatures of minus 321 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 196 degrees Celsius, or 77 kelvins) to prevent the chlorine atoms from jittering around.

Still, such temperatures are “easier to obtain than you may think,” Otte said. “Many MRI scanners in hospitals are already kept at 4 kelvins (minus 452 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 269 degrees Celsius) permanently, so it is not at all inconceivable that future storage facilities in data centers could be maintained at [liquid nitrogen temperatures].”

Future research will investigate different combinations of materials that may help atomic memory’s “stability at higher temperatures, perhaps even room temperature,” Otte said.

The scientists detailed their findings online on July 18th in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.


Editor’s note: Original Source: ‘Live Science’

Charles Q. Choi. “Tiny ‘Atomic Memory’ Device Could Store All Books Ever Written”

Live Science. N.p., Web. 28 July. 2016.

The internet decides it’s own existance

The Internet is a busy place. Every second, approximately 6,000 tweets are tweeted; more than 40,000 Google queries are searched; and more than 2 million emails are sent, according to Internet Live Stats, a website of the international Real Time Statistics Project.

But these statistics only hint at the size of the Web. As of September 2014, there were 1 billion websites on the Internet, a number that fluctuates by the minute as sites go defunct and others are born. And beneath this constantly changing (but sort of quantifiable) Internet that’s familiar to most people lies the “Deep Web,” which includes things Google and other search engines don’t index. Deep Web content can be as innocuous as the results of a search of an online database or as secretive as black-market forums accessible only to those with special Tor software. (Though Tor isn’t only for illegal activity, it’s used wherever people might have reason to go anonymous online.)

Combine the constant change in the “surface” Web with the unquantifiability of the Deep Web, and it’s easy to see why estimating the size of the Internet is a difficult task. However, analysts say the Web is big and getting bigger.


With about 1 billion websites, the Web is home to many more individual Web pages. One of these pages, www.worldwidewebsize.com, seeks to quantify the number using research by Internet consultant Maurice de Kunder. De Kunder and his colleagues published their methodology in February 2016 in the journal Scientometrics. To come to an estimate, the researchers sent a batch of 50 common words to be searched by Google and Bing. The researchers knew how frequently these words have appeared in print in general, allowing them to extrapolate the total number of pages out there based on how many contain the reference words. Search engines overlap in the pages they index, so the method also requires estimating and subtracting the likely overlap.

According to these calculations, there were at least 4.66 billion Web pages online as of mid-March 2016. This calculation covers only the searchable Web, however, not the Deep Web.

So how much information does the Internet hold? There are three ways to look at that question, said Martin Hilbert, a professor of communications at the University of California, Davis.

“The Internet stores information, the Internet communicates information and the Internet computes information,” Hilbert told Live Science. The communication capacity of the Internet can be measured by how much information it can transfer, or how much information it does transfer at any given time, he said.

In 2014, researchers published a study in the journal Supercomputing Frontiers and Innovations estimating the storage capacity of the Internet at 10^24 bytes, or 1 million exabytes. A byte is a data unit comprising 8 bits, and is equal to a single character in one of the words you’re reading now. An exabyte is 1 billion billion bytes.

One way to estimate the communication capacity of the Internet is to measure the traffic moving through it. According to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index initiative, the Internet is now in the “zettabyte era.” A zettabyte equals 1 sextillion bytes, or 1,000 exabytes. By the end of 2016, global Internet traffic will reach 1.1 zettabytes per year, according to Cisco, and by 2019, global traffic is expected to hit 2 zettabytes per year.

One zettabyte is the equivalent of 36,000 years of high-definition video, which, in turn, is the equivalent of streaming Netflix’s entire catalog 3,177 times, Thomas Barnett Jr., Cisco’s director of thought leadership, wrote in a 2011 blog post about the company’s findings.

In 2011, Hilbert and his colleagues published a paper in the journal Science estimating the communication capacity of the Internet at 3 x 10^12 kilobits per second, a measure of bandwidth. This was based on hardware capacity, and not on how much information was actually being transferred at any moment.

In one particularly offbeat study, an anonymous hacker measured the size of the Internet by counting how many IPs (Internet Protocols) were in use. IPs are the wayposts of the Internet through which data travels, and each device online has at least one IP address. According to the hacker’s estimate, there were 1.3 billion IP addresses used online in 2012.

The Internet has vastly altered the data landscape. In 2000, before Internet use became ubiquitous, telecommunications capacity was 2.2 optimally compressed exabytes, Hilbert and his colleagues found. In 2007, the number was 65. This capacity includes phone networks and voice calls as well as access to the enormous information reservoir that is the Internet. However, data traffic over mobile networks was already outpacing voice traffic in 2007, the researchers found.


Editor’s note: Original Source: ‘Live Science’

Stephanie Pappas. “How big is the Internet, Really?”

Live Science. N.p., Web. 21 July. 2016.

Technology over-powering human behavior – Pokemon Go

Since the game’s US launch last week, I have personally seen plenty of people on the streets playing Pokémon Go and from what I’ve heard, many can say the same. Based on some initial data, it seems that pretty much no technology comes close to the rate of adoption that this single app has seen in the past few days. It’s been a wild ride to say the least.

The app is still the top download on both app stores, and there have already been dozens of articles across the web telling the stories of many aspiring Pokémon trainers — everything from robberies to sore legs. Pokémon Go has already become a (mostly) global phenomenon and from what we’ve seen so far, it’s technology at its very best.

For the uninitiated, trainers in the Pokémon universe — and, with Pokémon Go, in the real universe as well — roam around capturing Pokémon, battling others, and visiting gyms to level up.

However, this game is a childhood dream come true for many. Pokémon Go is the opportunity to actually become a “Pokémon Master” as it is called and roam the world to capture, collect, and battle. Technology has long made things once deemed science fiction a reality, but, apparently, no dream of personal computers, video calls, or virtual reality, comes close to the feeling of just pure nostalgia.

It’s For Everybody

You can’t help but feel wonder at how far technology has come. Pokémon was created in 1995, with the first Game Boy game coming a year later and the first anime series popping up in 1997. With globalization in full force, the Japanese invention quickly spread around the world.

With 279 million games sold as of February 2016, Pokémon is the second best-selling video game franchise — only behind the Mario series from Nintendo proper. It’s a global franchise and its many iconic characters — including, perhaps most notably, Pikachu — have left a significant mark on pop culture.

Many growing up in the late 90s and early 2000s distinctly remember watching Pokémon as part of early Saturday cartoons. It’s been almost 20 years since, and those early watchers are now in early adulthood, thus making the nostalgia factor super-potent for those who are now some of the most active on social media. It’s not a mystery why the game has spread like wild fire.

Over the past few days, there have been countless examples of people from all backgrounds and ages coming together to play Pokémon Go in the real world. From major metropolitan cities to smaller towns, people on the hunt for Pokémon will recognize those who are also playing the game and end up exchanging a few words. I can attest to this even in my relatively small neighborhood.

It’s remarkable really, helping people do so much as lose weight and get out of their houses — many are even claiming that the game is already helping their mental health.

Encouraging People to be Social

But since the Pokémon universe is innately social, a number of activities can be done as a group in Pokémon Go. As Pokémon are not in limited supply, a bunch of people can go out together and capture the same creature from the exact same location. It limits competition in some regard, but causes the game to be much less confrontational and makes people more willing to share tips.

Half a dozen people playing at a local mall and struck up a conversation. Half of them were carrying battery packs to extend their game play, and one pair said they traveled quite a distance together to come to this mall as it had a number of PokéStops and gyms to claim. As I was riding an escalator, tapping and swiping away on Pokémon Go, a stranger asked what team I was on and we ended up having a quick conversation. Being a normally shy person, I felt surprisingly comfortable to ask other people the same question when I came across them in the park.

There are just so many stories of people telling total strangers tips about where to find Pokémon and striking up conversations — many that extend beyond the Pokémon game as well. In one particularlyfunny example, a player was (assuming the story is true) convinced to join a particular team for purposes of dominating the neighborhood, and a cop joined in as well.

Introducing AR to the Real World

It’s rare for an emerging technology to have an example product that can so perfectly showcase its potential to a wide swath of everyday people. The most obvious use of augmented reality in Pokémon Go is the ability to capture Pokémon against a live camera feed. This has resulted in both funny and rather jarring pictures of Pokémon ending up at the dinner table, at weddings, and even in the midst of protest.

While not as useful as a true heads-up display, this is still augmented reality — and it’s being introduced to a world still mostly unfamiliar with the tech in the most friendly way possible.  When a consumer, compromise-free gadget like HoloLens or the much touted Magic Leap headset is introduced, people will remember Pokémon Go, and games like it could end up being at least one killer use case for the tech.

A Platform for Good

People work, play, and spend a majority of their time in a connected virtual realm through the use of VR headsets. And these virtual- to real-world connections could potentially become very real with games like Pokémon Go.

In addition to in-app purchases imagine Niantic partnering with stores to show advertisements in Pokémon Go. Imagine stores — such as GameStop or Walmart — paying Niantic for a spot on the map to get players in their doors. Assuming the game doesn’t go as fast as it came, there will be many opportunities for the game to evolve into more than just a game over time.

And while outright in-universe advertising might ruin the game, there are some physical real world partnerships that could be struck (again, assuming the game is even still popular once the summer is over and kids everywhere go back to school). What if Niantic partnered with parks, libraries and other safe, open spaces to establish larger gyms or PokéStops? Theoretically, Pokémon Go could have dedicated physical hubs in the real world.

Approximately 20 years after its creation, Pokémon Go gives us a peek at an augmented reality future, but it’s also just a dream come true for many, many fans. Niantic Labs and The Pokémon Company managed to create a smartphone game that, in true Pokémon fashion, incorporates real-world social interaction — dating back to the days of connecting Game Boys together with link cables. And that’s undoubtedly one of the key reasons Pokémon Go has become such a hit.

Yesterday people used to watch at their clock so that they could reach  home and today, all they do is wander at random streets with no time-constraints. Is this game changing the human behavior?  Is technology over-powering human behavior?

Editor’s note: Article inspired from ‘9TO5Google’

Abner Li. “Opinion: Pokémon Go is technology at its absolute best”

9TO5Google. N.p., Web. 14 July. 2016.

Artificial, Artifical Intelligence

COMPUTERS still do some things very poorly. Even when they pool their memory and processors in powerful networks, they remain unevenly intelligent. Things that humans do with little conscious thought, such as recognizing patterns or meanings in images, language or concepts, only baffle the machines.

These lacunae in computers’ abilities would be of interest only to computer scientists, except that many individuals and companies are finding it harder to locate and organize the swelling mass of information that our digital civilization creates.

The problem has prompted a spooky, but elegant, business idea: why not use the Web to create marketplaces of willing human beings who will perform the tasks that computers cannot? Jeff Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon.com, has created Amazon Mechanical Turk, an online service involving human workers, and he has also personally invested in a human-assisted search company called ChaCha. Mr. Bezos describes the phenomenon very prettily, calling it “artificial artificial intelligence.”

Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) is a crowdsourcing Internet marketplace enabling individuals and businesses (known as Requesters) to coordinate the use of human intelligence to perform tasks that computers are currently unable to do. Employers are able to post jobs known as Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs), such as choosing the best among several photographs of a storefront, writing product descriptions, or identifying performers on music CDs. Workers (called Providers in Mechanical Turk’s Terms of Service, or, more colloquially, Turkers) can then browse among existing jobs and complete them in exchange for a monetary payment set by the employer. To place jobs, the requesting programs use an open application programming interface(API), or the more limited MTurk Requester site.

“Normally, a human makes a request of a computer, and the computer does the computation of the task,” he said. “But artificial artificial intelligences like Mechanical Turk invert all that. The computer has a task that is easy for a human but extraordinarily hard for the computer. So instead of calling a computer service to perform the function, it calls a human.”

Mechanical Turk began life as a service that Amazon itself needed. (The name recalls a famous 18th-century hoax, where what seemed to be a chess-playing automaton really concealed a human chess master.) Amazon had millions of Web pages that described individual products, but it wanted to weed out the duplicate pages. Software could help, but algorithmically eliminating all the duplicates was impossible, according to Mr. Bezos. So the company began to develop a Web site where people would look at product pages and be paid a few cents for every duplicate page they correctly identified.

Mr. Bezos figured that what had been useful to Amazon would be valuable to other businesses, too. The company opened Mechanical Turk as a public site in November 2005. Today, there are more than 100,000 “Turk Workers” in more than 100 countries who earn micropayments in exchange for completing a wide range of quick tasks called HITs, for human intelligence tasks, for various companies.

Mechanical Turk’s customers are corporations. By contrast, ChaCha.com, a start-up in Carmel, Ind., uses artificial artificial intelligence — sometimes also called crowdsourcing — to help individual computer users find better results when they search the Web. ChaCha, which began last year, pays 30,000 flesh-and-blood “guides” working from home or the local coffee shop as much as $10 an hour to direct Web surfers to the most relevant resources.

Amazon makes money from Mechanical Turk by charging companies 10 percent of the price of a successfully completed HIT. For simple HITs that cost less than 1 cent, Amazon charges half a cent. ChaCha intends to make money the way most other search companies do: by charging advertisers for contextually relevant links and advertisements.

Harnessing the collective wisdom of crowds isn’t new. It is employed by many of the “Web 2.0” social networks like Digg and Del.icio.us, which rely on human readers to select the most worthwhile items on the Web to read. But creating marketplaces of mercenary intelligences is genuinely novel.

What is it like to be an individual component of these digital, collective minds?

THERE have been two common objections to artificial artificial intelligence. The first, searching on ChaCha, is that the networks are no more intelligent than their smartest members. Katharine Mieszkowski, writing last year on Salon.com, raised the second, more serious criticism. She saw Mechanical Turk as a kind of virtual sweatshop. “There is something a little disturbing about a billionaire like Bezos dreaming up new ways to get ordinary folk to do work for him for pennies,” she wrote.

The ever-genial Mr. Bezos dismisses the criticism. “MTurk is a marketplace where folks who have work meet up with folks who want to do work,” he said.

Why do people become Turk Workers and ChaCha Guides? In poor countries, the money earned could offer a significant contribution to a family’s wealth. But even Mr. Bezos concedes that Turk Workers from rich countries probably can’t live on the small sums involved. “The people I’ve seen commenting on blogs seem mostly to be using MTurk as a supplemental form of income,” he said.

We probably have at least another 25 years before computers are more powerful than human brains, according to the most optimistic artificial intelligence experts. Until then, people will be able to sell their idle brains to the companies and people who need the special processing power that they alone possess through marketplaces like Mechanical Turk and ChaCha.

Editor’s note: Article inspired from ‘NY Times’

Jason Pontin. “Artificial intelligence, with help from humans”

NY Times. N.p., Web. 07 July. 2016.