World’s Information Capacity PPTs

for our inventory of the world's technological capacity to store, communicate and compute information

ICT perform three basic operations: they communicate information between points A and B (the transmission of information through space, or “communication”); ICT transmit information from time 1 to 2 (the transmission of information through time, or “storage”); and ICT technologies transform information in space-time from X to x, or from X to Y (computation).

This slide shows the 60 categories of technologies included in the inventory (21 analog and 39 digital). We define storage as the maintenance of information over a considerable amount of time for explicit later retrieval and estimate the installed (available) capacity. Communication is defined as the amount of information that is effectively received or sent by the user, while being transmitted over a considerable distance (outside the local area). We define computation as the meaningful transformation of information and estimate the installed (available) capacity and distinguish between humanly-guided general-purpose computer, and application-specific embedded computer

This slide explains the basic logic behind the methodology of estimating technological capacity.

We distinguish between two broad groups of computers. The first group includes all computers whose functionality is directly guided by their human users (general-purpose computers). The second group carries out automated computations that are incidental to the primary task, such as chips embedded in electronic appliances or visual interfaces (application-specific computers). Embedded application-specific computers have been much more powerful than humanly guided general-purpose computers (the y-axis is logarithmic in the figure). In other words: computers compute much more among themselves than we compute with our computers. While microcontrollers dominated our sample of application-specific computing support in 1986 (90 % of the 433 application-specific tera-IPS from our sample), graphic processing units clearly made up the lion share in 2007 (97 % of 189 exa-IPS).

The pocket calculator laid the cornerstone for modern microprocessors and was still the dominant humanly-guided general-purpose computer in 1986 (41 % of 300 general-purpose tera-IPS). The landscape changed quickly during the early 1990s, as personal computers and servers and mainframe computers pushed the evolutionary trajectory to 4.4 peta-IPS. The personal computer extended its dominance during the year 2000 (289 peta-IPS), to be rivaled by videogame consoles and increasingly relevant mobile phones by 2007 (6.4 exa-IPS). Videogame consoles contributed 25 % of the total in 2007. Nowadays, clusters of videogame consoles are occasionally used as supercomputer substitutes for scientific purposes and other data intensive computational tasks.

There are three main drivers to the growth of information: [1] the number of devices (infrastructure), which is analogous to the number of storage buckets (or communication tubes) installed at a given moment. [2] the hardware performance of this infrastructure (buckets and tubes have different diameters). [3] the compression of this information through advances in software (on a higher level of compression, more fits into these buckets/tubes). This is analogous to fillings of different sizes for the buckets. If we want to identify the number of filling units (or bits), we need to consider those different rates of compression. In order to make our estimates coherent, we normalize on the optimal compression rate, which estimates the pure informational capacity to store/communicate information (approximating the entropy of the source).

This slide shows the growth rates of our technological capacity during the two decades between 1986 and 2007. Sustained two-digit growth rates over a period of two decades are unrivalled in the social sciences. In comparison, the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has grown 6 % during the same period. This means that information (storage and telecommunication) grows 4 to 5 times faster than the economy, and computation more than 10 times faster. While the growth of information (storage and communication) has led to the often lamented “information overload”, the fact that computation grows twice as fast as information (storage and communication) allows us to create computational solutions to confront this overload (e.g. email spam filters to control telecommunication, or search algorithm to sort through storage). In this way, we use (computational) technologies to solve the problems produced by (informational) technologies, in a sense, fighting fire with fire.

The installed storage infrastructure reaches a level of saturation after the year 2000. The average person does not handle more than 25 storage devices since 2000. In 2007, half of them are analog (books, cassettes, etc), and the other half digital (CDs, DVDs, hard-disks, mobile devices, etc).

Notwithstanding this saturation, storage capacity keeps on increasing significantly, pushed by technological progress. The slide shows that –while in 2007 the average person has as many analog (blue) as digital (red) storage devices, most of the storage capacity stems from digital storage devices (represented by the area). The storage capacity is equivalent to less than one 730 MB CD-ROM per person in 1986 (539 MB per person), roughly 4 CD-ROM per person of 1993, 12 in the year 2000 and almost 61 CD-ROM per person in 2007. Piling up the imagined 404 billion CD-ROM from 2007 would create a stack from the earth to the moon and a quarter of this distance beyond.

Before the digital revolution, the amount of stored information was dominated by the bits stored in analog videotapes, such as VHS cassette, vinyl Long-Play records and analog audio cassettes. It was not until the year 2000 that digital storage made a significant contribution to our technological memory, contributing 25 % of the total in 2000. Hard disks make up the lion share of storage in 2007 (summing up to 52 %), while optical DVDs contribute almost a quarter (23 %) and digital tape some 12 %. We estimate the year 2002 being the “beginning of the digital age”, the moment when human kind stored more information on digital devices than on analog devices for the first time.

Compared with broadcasting, telecommunications still makes a quite modest, but rapidly growing part of the global communications landscape (3.3 % of their sum in 2007, up from 0.07 % in 1986). While there are only 8 % more broadcast devices in the world than telecommunication equipment (6.66 billion vs. 6.15 billion in 2007), the average broadcasting device communicates 27 times more information per day than the average telecommunications gadget. This result might be unexpected at first sight, especially considering the omnipresence of the Internet, but can be understood when considering that an average Internet subscription effectively uses its full bandwidth for only around 9 minutes per day (during an average 1 hour and 36 minutes daily session) in 2007, while the average TV runs for 3 hours per day.

The slide presents the effective telecommunication capacity (two-way channels). The 281 petabytes of optimally compressed information telecommunicated in 1986 were overwhelmingly dominated by fixed line telephony, while postal letters contributed with a mere 0.34 %. This is the informational equivalent of 2 newspaper pages per person on a daily basis. 1993 was characterized by the digitization of the fixed phone network (471 optimally compressed petabytes). We estimate the year 1990 to be the turning point from analog to digital supremacy. The Internet revolution began shortly after the year 2000. During this time, data traffic overtook voice traffic. In only 7 years, the introduction of broadband Internet effectively multiplied the world’s telecommunication capacity by a factor of 29, from 2.2 optimally compressed exabytes in 2000, to 65 in 2007, 97 % of which consists of data traffic (mobile and fixed). This is the informational equivalent to 6 entire newspapers that are exchanged through two-way telecommunication channels per person per day.

The slide displays the capacity broadcast technologies. In 1986, the world’s technological receivers picked up around 432 exabytes of optimally compressed information, which is the informational equivalent to 55 entire newspapers per person per day. This increased to 715 exabytes of optimally compressed information in 1993, 1.2 zettabytes in 2000 and 1.9 in 2007. Digital satellite television leads the pack into the digital age, receiving half of the 24 % represented by digital broadcast signals in 2007. This means that the digitization of broadcast networks was still incipient in 2007. The share of radio declined gradually from 7.2 % in 1986 to 2.2 % in 2007.

This slide underlines that the capacity to store information has grown at a much faster rate than the combined growth rate of broadcast and telecommunication (mainly due to the relatively slow growth of broadcasting and the still incipient role of telecommunication in terms of information transmission, see previous slide: “Communication”). In 1986 it would have been possible to fill the global storage capacity with help of all effectively used communication technologies in roughly 2.2 days. In 1993 it would have taken almost 8 days, in the year 2000 roughly 2.5 weeks, and in 2007 almost 8 weeks. We always register a larger share of communication in our technological memories.

Why? …to advance the information society and the information economy toward the "state of Science"