A Sapphire Hard Disk Will Last 1 Million Years (But You Can't Afford It)

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Though hard disk drive technology has improved in recent times, you'd be a brave soul indeed to use one for more than a couple of years without backing it up. But now a team of scientists has made a hard disk from sapphire which it claims will last 1 million years—just don't expect to be able to afford it.


The project was born when nuclear waste repositories realized they needed to preserve records of where they'd buried waste not just in the near-future, but for tens of thousands of years. Currently, there's no digital format that we know can last that long with certainty.

Which is why a team from the waste management agency ANDRA has commissioned the ultimate HDD: a sapphire disk inside onto which information is engraved using platinum. Made from two thin disks of industrial sapphire, the thing measures about 20 centimeters across, reports Science.

Data is etched in platinum onto one side of one of the disks, before the other is placed on top to form an information sandwich. Then, the disks are molecularly fused together. So far, the hardware has been immersed in acid to test its durability and to simulate aging. The researchers, as a result, hope the thing could survive at least 1 millions years.

There are just two small problems. First, the prototype cost a cool $30,000 dollars. Second, how do you communicate information to someone who might need to read it in tens of thousands of years? In fact, the researchers openly admit that they "have no idea what language to write it in". How about pictures instead? [Science]

Image by Scoobay under Creative Commons license



You could do the same thing that allowed us to crack Heiroglyphics decades ago - encode the information on the disk in 10 to 20 different languages and numerical systems (there are only a few, but do all of them, including binary, hex, octal, etc.). Odds are good that at least one of the languages on Earth will survive for a few thousand years. Linguists are not going to become extinct. Binary is an extremly simple system for numerology and could be deciphered by a renaissance-era society, if not earlier.

For that matter, $30 grand for storage that lasts at least millenia is incredibly cheap. You could make 100 of them and scatter them about the country. Even if the worst were to happen, at least 3 or 4 would be recoverable.