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Hitachi introduces technology that could store data for millions of years

Hitachi has developed a new method for saving information digitally that could preserve data for millions of years, the company has said.

The technology, which involves storing digital information onto slivers of quartz glass, was revealed yesterday by Hitachi chief executive Hiroaki Nakanishi.

The method uses a laser to store data in binary form by stippling dots onto a slab of quartz glass, which can then be read using an optical microscope. The glass is reportedly waterproof, resistant to an array of chemicals, can withstand radio waves, and can survive extreme temperatures - up to 1,000 degrees Celcius, allowing it to preserve information for millions of years.

"We believe data will survive unless this hard glass is broken," said Hitachi senior researcher Takao Watanabe.

The current prototype is made up of four layers and measures 0.8in x 0.8in with a thickness of 0.008in, totalling a storage capacity of some 40MB per square inch - that’s about the same density as a conventional audio CD, though researchers say they will likely be able to add more layers to boost storage capacity. By contrast, hard drives today can hold up to one terabit per square inch.

Despite their larger capacity, however, modern hard drives are unlikely to last beyond 10 or 15 years. In addition to being able to withstand the elements, Hitachi’s new technology introduces a storage option that won’t become obsolete anytime soon.

"The volume of data being created every day is exploding, but in terms of keeping it for later generations, we haven't necessarily improved since the days we inscribed things on stones," Hitachi researcher Kazuyoshi Torii said, according to the AFP.

"The possibility of losing information may actually have increased," he added, referring to digital media like CDs and traditional hard drives, whose lifespans are relatively short.

Hitachi has revealed few details about the application of the technology or about its availability, but the company has promised to unveil more information at the International Symposium on Optical Memory on 30 September.