Tech companies are currently in the rat race they like to call “reaching the next billion” – users who are just about to connect to the internet thanks to the drop in prices of smartphones, computers and data plans. By 2025, they aim to reach the next three billions. As ambitious as that sounds, the innovations leading up to that end goal are helping tech giants turn more profit every day. Big data means big money after all. But don’t let all the fanfare mask the elephant in the room – the increasing cost of creating and maintaining new data centers to store all the data internet users are exponentially creating.
Science always has a way out, right? This time, the innovation is going back to nature. Scientists have finally figured out how DNA can be used to store vast amounts of data, in a cheaper and more convenient way than how they currently exist in server farms. Theoretically, a single gram of DNA can store 215 million gigabytes of data. And, unlike the inefficient silicon based storage units we use today, DNA-encoded data can last up to 10,000 years.
So why aren’t we already doing it? Because the technology is still in its nascent stage. While artificial DNA created using natural enzymes can easily store data, we still haven’t perfected the science behind retrieving it in nanoseconds. But we’re heading there, so it’s only a matter of time. Until then, the technology can easily be used by big tech corporations to store archive data, like old legal documents, medical records, etc. – basically anything that does not need to be constantly retrieved for everyday use. That will be a huge burden off the server farms, which needed almost $20 billion dollars last year to operate in US alone.
Going forward, as retrieval processes are perfected and DNA data storage becomes more commercially available, accessing data from DNA will almost be as easy as reading a file from a hard drive. The world will gear up for the next huge disruption when that happens. And think about the portability! Right now, it will cost us $486 million to send one exabyte (one billion gigabytes) data from Earth to Mars using five Falcon rockets. With DNA storage, the same amount can be stored in five cubic centimeters. If that doesn’t blow your mind, I don’t know what will.