"We are literally changing the planet bit by bit, and it is an invisible crisis."
- IBM estimates that humans produce 2.5 quintillion digital data bytes daily.
- We'll one day reach a point where the number of bits we store outnumber the entirety of atoms on Earth.
- In the most severe scenario, it takes just 130 years for all the power generated on Earth to be sucked up by digital data creation and storage.
Will data do us in? <p><br></p><p>If we do get lucky enough to survive and steer clear of any other likely, apocalyptic scenario, say a thermonuclear war, the eruption of a <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/supervolcano-wipe-out-united-states-kill-billions?rebelltitem=1" target="_blank">supervolcano </a>or an enormous <a href="https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/07/here-s-how-world-could-end-and-what-we-can-do-about-it" target="_blank">asteroid </a>slamming into the Earth, we'll have about<a href="https://www.universetoday.com/18847/life-of-the-sun/" target="_blank"> five billion years</a> until the sun runs out of fuel. But between now and the death of our sun, there's another issue scientists weren't even aware of, until now. Information itself could thwart humankind. It isn't data per se but storing it. As societies increasingly rely on digital information and there's more and more of it, we'll one day reach a point where the number of bits being stored will <a href="https://publishing.aip.org/publications/latest-content/digital-content-on-track-to-equal-half-earths-mass-by-2245/" target="_blank">outnumber the atoms that make up our planet</a>. That's according to theoretical physicist and Senior Lecturer <a href="https://www.port.ac.uk/about-us/structure-and-governance/our-people/our-staff/melvin-vopson" target="_blank">Melvin Vopson</a> at the University of Portsmouth in the UK. A peer‐reviewed paper on his theory, called "The Information Catastrophe," was recently published in the journal <a href="https://aip.scitation.org/doi/10.1063/5.0019941" target="_blank">AIP Advances</a>.</p><p>"Currently, we produce ∼1021 digital bits of information annually on Earth," Vopson begins. This is based on an IBM estimate that humans produce 2.5 quintillion digital data bytes daily. With an assumed 20 percent growth rate, the number of bits we produce will outnumber the entirety of atoms on the planet in around 350 years. In a <a href="https://publishing.aip.org/publications/latest-content/digital-content-on-track-to-equal-half-earths-mass-by-2245/" target="_blank">press release</a>, Vopson said, "We are literally changing the planet bit by bit, and it is an invisible crisis."</p><p>There are a lot of variables to consider. For instance, the number of bits produced each year, data storage capacity, energy production and the size of the bit compared to the atom (mass distribution). There are human‐centered factors too, such as population growth and the rate of access to information technology in developing countries. "If we assume a more realistic growth rates of 5%, 20%, and 50%," the paper states, "the total number of bits created will equal the total number of atoms on Earth after ∼1,200 years, ∼340 years, and ∼150 years, respectively."</p>
It could be worse than predicted<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="951cfbbb0298c36758141a8fe63d162f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/C2Ag1iQKWeM?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>In the most severe case, the 150‐year scenario, it would take approximately 130 years until all the power generated on Earth is sucked up by digital data creation and storage. In this version, by 2245, digital information's mass would equal half that of the Earth's. IBM states that 90 percent of the digital information we have today was only produced in the last ten years. "The growth of digital information seems truly unstoppable," Vopson said.</p><p>What's more, he believes his rates are conservative. He told me via email: "If we look only at the magnetic data storage density, it doubled every year for over 50 years." Not only might the generation of data increase at a faster clip, the estimate uses the thermodynamic energy limit for bit creation. This is the ideal case, the maximum possible efficiency, which we are miles away from, meaning the issue may arrive far sooner.</p><p>Dr. Vopson did offer one solution, using "non‐material media" to store information. He does not hold out hope for this, however. "I am more optimistic about the energy aspects as we will most likely master better ways of extracting energy from fusion (and) solar PVs to close to 100% efficiency." Quantum computing wouldn't be the answer, as quantum bits or q‐bits (bits in quantum superposition states) don't store data. Instead, storage happens using digital bits and classical computing.</p><p>Besides this theory, Vopson is the progenitor of the mass‐energy‐information equivalence, which states that information is an essential building block of the universe and it has mass. In this theory mass, energy, and information are all interconnected. Dark matter doesn't exist. Instead, the "missing" matter in the universe is the mass information itself contains.</p>
A small proof-of-concept study shows smartphones could help detect drunkenness based on the way you walk.
- The legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for driving in the U.S is 0.08 percent. You can measure your BAC 15 minutes after your first drink and your levels will remain safe if you consume no more than one standard drink per hour.
- Portable breathalyzers can be used to measure BAC, but not many people own these devices.
- A small proof-of-concept study suggests that your smartphone could detect your drunkenness based on the way you walk.
The small study that could mean big things for alcohol testing<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU3OTEzMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzOTY0MDk0OH0.wFIh9fQoCEd7fGgw59Mn5nyp9c5yjQbCoVXQrx3AnNk/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C1307%2C0%2C880&height=700" id="df0bb" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7c1e9a4575df74b89d0078c69a3dbd3d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="alcohol impairment by BAC level chart" />
Image by gritsalak karalak on Shutterstock<p> While devices such as portable breath analyzers are available, not many people own them due to how expensive they are and the social stigma surrounding them. <a href="https://www.jsad.com/doi/10.15288/jsad.2020.81.505" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">This 2020 study</a> suggests smartphones could be an alternative. <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/mobile/" target="_blank">According to PEW Research</a>, up to 81 percent of people own a smartphone.<span></span> </p><p> <strong>The study</strong> </p><p> For this small-scale study, there were 22 participants who visited the lab to consume a vodka-based drink that would raise their breath alcohol concentration to 0.02 percent. </p><p> Dr. Brian Suffoletto of the Stanford Medical School's Department of Emergency Medicine (and corresponding author of the study) explains to <a href="https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/smartphones-measuring-walk-could-detect-drunkenness#Straight-line-walking" target="_blank">Medical News Today</a>: "I lost a close friend to a drinking and driving crash in college," Dr. Suffoletto says. "And as an emergency physician, I have taken care of scores of adults with injuries related to acute alcohol intoxication. Because of this, I have dedicated the past 10 years to testing digital interventions to prevent deaths and injury related to excessive alcohol consumption." </p><p> <strong>How it works:</strong></p><p> Before having the drink, each participant had a smartphone strapped to their back and was asked to walk 10 steps in a straight line and then back again. Every hour for the next 7 hours, the participants repeated this walk. </p><p> The sensors on the smartphone measured each person's acceleration and their movements (both from side to side and up and down). </p><p> <strong>This is not the first study of it's kind.</strong></p><p> Previous research (such as <a href="https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/7764559" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">this 2016 study</a>) has used machine learning to determine whether a person was intoxicated. That data, gathered from 34 'intoxicated' participants, generated time and frequency domain features such as sway area and cadence, which were classified using supervised machine learning. </p><p> This 2020 study showed promising results of the smartphone analysis: over 90 percent accuracy. </p><p> Researchers found through analyzing the data that 92.5 percent of the time they were able to determine if a participant had exceeded the legal BAC limit. </p><p> <strong>Of course, the study had some limitations.</strong></p><p> In real life, a person is very unlikely to keep their smartphone strapped to their back. Placing the phone in your pocket (or carrying it) could impact the accuracy. </p><p> This study also measured breath alcohol concentrations, which are on average <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24747668/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">15 percent lower</a> than blood alcohol concentrations. </p><p> <strong>The implications of this small-scale study are exciting.</strong> </p><p> While this was a relatively small study, it is being used as a "proof of concept" marker for further research. Researchers on this project explain that future research would ideally be done in real-world settings with more volunteers. </p><p> Dr. Brian Suffoletto explains to <a href="https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/smartphones-measuring-walk-could-detect-drunkenness#Over-90%-accurate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Medical News Today</a>: </p><p> "In 5 years, I would like to imagine a world in which, if people go out with friends and drink at risky levels, they get an alert at the first sign of impairment and are sent strategies to help them stop drinking and protect them from high-risk events, like driving, interpersonal violence, and unprotected sexual encounters." </p>
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Here's how the world's technology conversations are changing.
COVID is changing the world and our technology conversations are changing with it.
Image: World Economic Forum, Boston Consulting Group<p>The first priority during this pandemic has been the protection of individuals, and rightly so. As a result, topics such as biotech/medtech have gained prominence as researchers seek out new treatments and a potential vaccine. This shift has fueled a new interest in telemedicine as well. This technology was slow in adoption for outpatient care pre-COVID, but has seen enormous growth in the past 6 months, <a href="https://www.cnbc.com/2020/05/18/coronavirus-how-covid-19-accelerated-the-rise-of-telemedicine.html" target="_blank">as lockdowns and the virus forced patients and doctors to seek new solutions for care.</a></p><p>The coronavirus has also brought new uncertainties. With this, data analytics has risen 35% from pre-COVID levels, as individuals and companies use emerging data from medical research and emerging habits to forecast everything from the path of the pandemic to potential supply chain disruptions.</p><p>Talk regarding delivery drones has increased by 57% in topic share, thanks in part to new uses of drones to deliver much-needed supplies such as groceries and PPE in areas hard to reach after COVID-19 lockdowns.<br></p><p>COVID-19 boosted the number of articles written about 5G, though the context for these conversations has shifted. Articles pre-COVID focused on potential capabilities from a 5G rollout. As the virus spread, however, fear sparked by conspiracy theorists linked 5G technology to misinformation campaigns.</p>
Image: World Economic Forum, Boston Consulting Group<p>As part of this research, analysis dug into top discussion topics in 4 of the world's key regions: India, China, the European Union and the US. Here contextual AI studied more than 2,500 publications between January and May 2020. To be sure, a number of factors determine the types of media coverage that emerges in different regions. Still, this exercise is another window into how technology conversations differed across contexts as countries faced the virus in different ways, leveraging different tools and resources.</p>
Start by reading the title, looking at the labels and checking the caption. If these are not available – be very wary.
Since the days of painting on cave walls, people have been representing information through figures and images.