What is a zettabyte?

July 5th, 2014 in Technology and Comments Off

Recently I read an article about how many gigabytes would be needed to store an entire human in digital form, and it’s a lot. Several zettabytes.

So, what is a zettabyte? Well, our DNA in a single cell is about 1.5 gigabytes of data, and since we can create ourselves as clones from a single strand of DNA then technically we only need 1.5gb though it wouldn’t be you.

The real you includes all of your memories and your entire body, so we need to store all of our cells as well, although this is a very simplistic approach. But let’s assume we have a Star Trek teleporting transporter and we want to store our entire cell structure in its computer to recreate ourselves at the other end. Then we need to encode every cell.

This is where is gets more complicated. There are an estimated 40,000,000,000,000 cells in the human body. That’s 40 trillion.

Multiply 1.5 gigabytes with 40 trillion cells and the quick answer is we need 60,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes of storage.

A zettabyte is any number followed by 21 zeroes. Now consider that the average smartphone has 1gb of memory, about 8gb of internal storage, and usually 32gb of external storage in a mini SD card, and you can see that we would need a lot of smartphones just to carry a complete copy of our cells in the even we are ever accidentally destroyed and want our virtual assistant to rebuild us from the copy we have in storage.

Oh, and then there is another problem. Backup software would take a very long time to write 60 zettabytes of data, so we might need to make sure our smartphone has a supercomputer built in as well.

Facebook test emotional posts on users

June 30th, 2014 in Social Media and 3 Comments

The story that Facebook has run a test of several hundred thousand users with positive and negative toned posts from their friends is getting a lot of headlines for the breach of trust demonstrated by Facebook, but the experiment itself is fascinating. Sky News’ headline read Facebook: ‘Creepy’ Secret Experiment Attacked, while the Guardian ran the headline Facebook reveals news feed experiment to control emotions.

From reading the headlines alone you’d think the issue of testing social media posts to see how much they change the moods of their readers would be an absolute crime, but I think the experiment was useful, and more than that, I think it’s essential we have this data because social media is here to stay and many other scarier organisations than Facebook are also trying to manipulate us.

Testing involved around 689,000 users who did not know they were part of this test. A Facebook algorithm scanned the posts of all their friends for positive and negative words, and automatically removed selected posts from the users timeline so that about half the users would see mostly positive posts, and about half would see mostly negative posts.

The results were that people who mostly saw positive posts would themselves then post mostly positively, whilst people who saw negative posts would then mostly post negatively. This is called emotional contagion. Whilst Facebook had no right to conduct a test without their users permission (actually their TOS actually allows this) the long term implications are both frightening and exciting.

Needless to say the test has implications for spammers, political parties, governments, charities, terrorism, and many other groups that want to disseminate their particular message or ideology.

I think the rule of thumb should be not to rely on just one social media platform with online friends, and to mix up the people you follow to avoid falling into the trap of only seeing positive, or only seeing negative posts lest your mood is manipulated.

Is a Warp Drive Possible?

June 15th, 2014 in Technology and Comments Off

Faster than light travel has been the dream of science fiction writers and Hollywood producers since at least the 1920s, but sadly, Einstein and others made it impossible with laws of physics that said it couldn’t be done. It still can’t. But the possibility of creating stable wormholes, or better yet, warp drives that bend the fabric of space and time so that we can effectively travel faster than light might not be impossible after all.

In the last week, the Internet has been going gaga over a design by Mark Rademaker, who along with Harold Smith of NASA, have released several images of what a possible ship with an Alcubierre warp drive attached might look like. The USS Enterprise of Star Trek was amazing, but it didn’t take into account the physics White and his team have discovered, so the images of a projected IXS Enterprise are as exciting as if we actually had the spaceship already.

According to White’s calculations, if we could create the warp drive, we’d be able to travel to Alpha Centauri in about 2 years. Compared with many decades at 10% of the speed of light which might be possible. The Alcubierre drive would work by expanding space and time behind the spaceship, and compressing it in front of the vessel, and creating a sort of bubble inside which the ship would travel.

If we can create the IXS Enterprise, it will still need another sort of propulsion, like rocket, to move the ship forward because the Alcubierre drive only makes the warp bubble, it doesn’t actually propel the vessel. This is why the image of the IXS Enterprise includes large fuel tanks strapped to the sides of the main body.