The Technium

The Amount of Information in the World

According to the latest accounting of how much information capacity there is in the world, the tide of information we have unleashed is rising far faster than anyone expected. The flood of information is now a long-term tsunami.

Computing capacity is increasing at 58% annually, telecommunications at 28%, and storage at 23% per year. The former rate is approximately the rate of Moore’s Law, a doubling every 18 months. Communications are doubling every 34 months and storage every 40 months. Information has been expanding at this rate for the past decade. (See my essay on the Speed of Information)

These latest metrics come from a February 2011 article called The World’s Technological Capacity to Store, Communicate, and Compute Information (PDF here) by Martin Hilbert and Priscila Lopez.

The full scale of how much information we make is hard to appreciate. We humans collectively now have capacity to store approximately 300 exabytes of information. This is close the total amount of information stored in one person’s DNA. Or, as Hilbert puts it, it’s the equivalent of 80 Library of Alexandrias per person on the planet. And remember, the technium is doubling its capacity every year and a half, and your DNA is not.


Graphic from the Washington Post

Something to conjure with: Hilber notes on his webiste that

Broadcasting has grown at about the same speed as world’s GDP; but our information storage capacity has grown 4 times faster and telecommunication capacity has grown roughly 5 times faster than the world’s economic power.

You can watch a short video version of the paper here.

How much information can the world store, communicate, and compute? from SCVideos on Vimeo.

In his book The Information, James Gleick quotes Jaron Lanier describing the scale of this flood: “It’s as if you kneel to plant the seed of a tree and it grows so fast that it swallows your whole town before you can even rise to your feet.”


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