The future of the internet promises to be just as fast as any physical thing we can imagine. But what if it were faster? What would happen if we reached 100,000 gigabits per second (100 terabits per second)?
Let’s take a look at what this potential tsunami of bandwidth would mean for how humans live and interact with one another.
Your Internet Speed Is Scaling To Infinity And Beyond!
It could feasibly take less than a day to download every game ever made in the history of video games. We’ll get back to that super-fast game downloading in a moment, but first let’s talk about that other big aspect of life: communication. It might not be possible to send or receive a single word until this point, but imagine the size of your social network.
100 megabits per second would mean each day there are more than 5 million new messages sent. At that rate, it would take 6 days for the entire network to stay active! Pro tip: the world’s largest digital encyclopedia has over four billion entries and is updating every day. At that pace, we’d need over 30,000 years to be up-to-date about every little thing going on in the world!
If people needed only a small amount of time to communicate with one another, we could still use our current networks. However, even 100 megabits per second wouldn’t be enough for this. If you were to communicate with every person in your address book of 1,000 people, it would take more than three years! And we haven’t even considered uploading media like photos or videos! It’s no wonder Google Fiber only advertises upload speeds of 5 megabits per second.
Since you’re reading this on a computer connected to the Internet, I’m going to go ahead and assume you have a pretty hefty Internet connection at home. Personally, I have an Internet connection at my house that has a top speed of 10 gigabits per second (10 Gbps). That’s a lot faster than what a lot of people have in their home, but it still doesn’t seem like a speed that would be possible for the entire world to have access to. So let’s take a look at how we could get such an enormous amount of bandwidth.
The Dragon’s Backbone
If you’ve taken high school level physics, you know that the speed of light is about 186,000 miles per second. Light and data travel at the same speed. So what would happen if we could get light to move faster than it does in a vacuum?
If light traveled a million times faster, then it would mean the world’s Internet would be more than one million times larger. Imagine if you could take all of the Earth’s population and gather them all in one place. It would take approximately 70 million people to fit into New York City from every single direction! That’s roughly 5 billion people! Now look at how many people live on Earth alone: about 7 billion! There are only 6,743,000 square miles on Earth. Imagine if this data was backed up somewhere else!
Consider what this means for the world: if we were to move all of the information that exists on Earth and send it to a satellite, we’d exceed the total amount of information that exists in our entire universe today! The number of bits that exist in our universe today is estimated at 10⁸⁰. If you went through every single document in your house, you’d need over 10⁸⁰ minutes to read them all.
Since we can’t actually push all of these bits into a satellite, let’s start with just a central computer and see how much data it would handle. Since the total number of atoms that exist is around 10⁸⁰, you could store 10²⁰ bits in that central computer.
You’ve likely heard of Moore’s Law — a concept which says that the number of transistors that can fit in an integrated circuit doubles every couple of years. This rate is known as the “density” of chips, and it’s essentially how fast computer parts get smaller. A decade ago, your average processor had about 500 million transistors. Today’s chips have over 1 billion. At this rate, the density for processing power could increase by a factor of 10¹¹, or a million times, in the next decade! This means that a central computer in space with 1 billion transistors would support more than 10¹¹ simultaneous threads!
And that’s just one processor. If you had multiple CPUs and gave them all this much processing power, you’d require 20 square kilometers of space to house them all. The excess heat generated from so many processors would scorch the room like an overheated frying pan. Even if you could put these processors in a container, it would take more than five years to cool it down!
The last time we got this kind of increase in processing power was perhaps 10¹⁰ years ago. Back then, our computers were using something called vacuum tubes. However, the number of transistors in a vacuum tube was only 1 billion, so this would be like upgrading from a processor that used vacuum tubes to one that used transistors. To make sure the extra processing power isn’t uselessly taxed and doesn’t end up doing nothing, we’d need to add enough memory to store it all. This is where storage comes in.
A data center in the United States will store about 200 petabytes. This seems like a lot, but it’s nothing compared to what’s required to hold all of the data we have today. In fact, you would need about five million data centers this size at $5 billion a piece! That would cost $25 trillion to get started! And even if you could buy all that hardware, your computer wouldn’t be able to hold all of the information that exists in our universe in just 10¹² particles of dust!
Downloading the World
Let’s now imagine that we are able to use satellites to beam down data into our homes and offices. Let’s say we wanted to download all of the data on the internet.
But how much data is on the internet? Well, about 10 exabytes a day for a total of about 150 exabytes a year. That’s already more than all the information ever created by humanity! However, if we use Moore’s Law and imagine that our computers can handle an unbelievable 100 trillion transistors — give or take a few hundred trillion — then we could store it all in just 5 kilograms! This may seem like a lot, but it wouldn’t require more than 10^-30 grams for a single transistor. That’s only about 10,000 times smaller than an average proton!
But if it takes so little to hold a transistor, what if we used that much mass for storing information? After all, light travels at 300 million meters per second which means it would take 500 years for the light to travel from one end of a single piece of matter to the other.
But what if you made a storage device out of matter itself? After all, if we used the mass of matter in the Sun you could pack it all into something the size of a marble! The following image shows just how much data one cubic centimeter could hold. And that’s only enough to store a few minutes of super high-definition video.
Now let’s look at what would be possible if we used that same volume for storing information:
If we wanted to store ten years worth of video, all the information about the human race would fit into a single gram! This is more than an order of magnitude better than our current technology. And this is what can happen when we stop using mass as a measure of how much information we can store, and start using volume.
If you want to find out more about this amazing technology take a look at our on-going review of the smallest hard drives ever built. And be sure to check out the gallery below for some more amazing photos!