The world's technological capacity to process information
Martin Hilbert and Priscila Lopez
The World’s Technological Capacity to Store, Communicate, and Compute Information
April 2011, Martin Hilbert and Priscila López
Science, Volume 332, ino. 6025; p.60-65,
FREE ACCESS to the article through the link to the right
Technological information inequality as an incessantly moving target: The redistribution of information and communication capacities between 1986 and 2010
forthcoming, 2013, Martin Hilbert
Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, Vol. forthcoming Download an electronic version (pdf) of the Accepted Author Manuscript for FREE here
How to measure "How Much Information"? Theoretical, methodological, and statistical challenges for the social sciences
April 2012, Martin Hilbert
International Journal of Communication, Volume 6, 1042-1055. Guest Editor introduction to iJoC Special Section How to Measure “How Much Information”?
Part I: results and scope & Part II: measurement unit and conclusions
April 2012, Martin Hilbert and Priscila López
International Journal of Communication, Volume 6, 936-955; 955-979 .
Mapping the dimensions and characteristics of the world’s technological communication capacity during the period of digitization (1986 - 2007/2010),
December 2011, Martin Hilbert and Priscila López
presented at the 9th World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators Meeting (WTIM-11), International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Mauritius, 7 - 9 December 2011.
For Global statistics in MS Excel format on the distribution of telecom capacity and subcribers according to technology, click here.xlsx
Measuring the Information Society 2012: Chapter 5. Measuring communication capacity in bits and bytes
September 2012, International Telecommunication Union ITU-D
Annual Report Series: http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/ict/publications/idi
Updated Supporting Appendix:
Methodological and Statistical Background on The World’s Technological Capacity to Store, Communicate and Compute Information 2012,
2012, Priscila López and Martin Hilbert
online publication (302 pages).
"Powerpoint slides for selected graphs and findings", Given the frequent demand, we have decided to upload several Powerpoint slides.
Click on the videos to see some short animations:
and ALSO HERE
The following is a small journalistic-style summary article of several of our findings from various studies:
How much information is there in the "Information Society"?
August 2012, Martin Hilbert
Significance, Volume 9, issue 4; p.8-12,
Download an electronic version (pdf) of the original Author Manuscript for FREE here.
...click on the videos to see some summary animations:
Orders of magnitude
How much is this? Prepare for some big numbers:
In 2007, humankind was able to store some 300 exabytes of optimally compressed information in their technological devices.
- This is equivalent to 61 CD-ROMs per person. Piling up the imagined 404 billion CD-ROM would create a stack from the earth to the moon and a quarter of this distance beyond.
- 80 times more information per person than in the historic Library of Alexandria (300 AC-300 AC).
- One could cover the entire area of the United States or China with thirteen layers of books.
- Stored on newspapers and selling each newspaper for US$ 1 (2007), we would require more than our entire global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to buy this information (17 % more).
- There are roughly as many stars in our galaxy as the average amount of bits per person.
- If we would use a grain of sand to represent one bit (e.g. grain of sand or not), we would require 315 times the amount of sand on the world’s beaches.
In 2007, humankind received 1.9 zettabytes of optimally compressed information through its one-way communication broadcasting channels.
- Every person receives the informational equivalent of 174 newspapers per day.
- All TV-sets in the world running for almost 3 hours per day.
In 2007, humankind telecommunicated 65 exabytes of optimally compressed information through its two-way telecommunication channels.
- Every person in the world is telecommunicating the equivalent of 6 newspapers per day.
- Sending one double-printed newspaper sheet per “pigeon post” bird, would require an army of 4 times the entire global bird population (all kinds birds) per day working for us.
- Using word-based chat, one would need to chat for 2 months as 3 weeks nonstop to communicate the information that the average person telecommunicates through multimedia content in one day only.
In 2007, humankind was able to compute 6.4 x 1018 instructions per second on its general-purpose computers.More than 25,000 times more powerful than IBM’s supercomputer Watson that competed on the game-show Jeopardy in 2011. Extrapolating our numbers to 2011, Watson represents some 0.001 % of the world’s general-purpose computational capacity in 2011
On a manual calculating machine, a master of the abacus would require 50 times the time since the big bang to carry out as many computations as our general-purpose computers can do in one second. If you and I would do it by hand, we would probably require 2,200 times the period since the big bang, and this without taking one small break…
While these orders of magnitude are mindboggling, they are still tiny compared to the orders of magnitude nature deals with:
- If we would like to give a distinct name to every star in the observable universe (these names would have to be 28 characters long), we would only be able to store the name of every thousandth star in one of our technological memories.
- There are 1,150 times more atoms in 12 grams of carbon12 (or in one “mole”, Avogadro's number) than bits that we telecommunicate in an entire year.
- There are 330 million times more bacteria on earth than bits that the world broadcasts per year.
- The maximal number of neural nerve impulses of a group of 64 people is equal to the number of instructions all our computational devices combined can compute (in 1999 it was equal to nerve impulses executed by one human brain).
While natural and biological evolution is extremely powerful, it is also incredibly slow and stays quite constant, while technological evolution grows exponentially. Comparing the rates of progress of the world’s technological capacity to process information with the growth of the world’s economic power (GDP), it results that:
- - Broadcasting has grown at about the same speed as world’s GDP;
- Our information storage capacity has grown 4 times faster and telecommunication capacity has grown roughly 5 times faster than the world’s economic power;
- General-purpose computation has expanded its capacity 9 times faster than the world economy.
Science Podcast (go to minute 20)
BBC Podcast (go to minute 20)
Previous and related work:Information Flow Census.
1983: Ithiel de Sola Pool, Tracking the Flow of Information, Science 221, 609-613.
1997: Michael Lesk, How Much Information Is There In the World?
2003: David Bounie, The International Production and Dissemination of Information, École Nationale Supérieure des Télécommunications.
2009: Russell Neuman, Yong Jin Park and Elliot Panek, Tracking the Flow of Information Into the U.S. Home, University of Michigan.
Too much information?