Memory March today has an article about possible hard drive replacements. The laboratory technologies discussed promise larger capacities in smaller form factors than current memory technologies. Should these technologies reach commercialization, several tens of gigabytes worth of storage will become available in a block the size of a sugar cube or smaller. Soon after that, storage will be measured in terabytes (the largest current hard drive capacity is 500 gigabytes, or half a terabyte).

The period between the end of 2004 and the end of 2007 will see this shakeup in the memory industry, setting off a chain reaction in changes to all digital devices. For example, size will no longer be a limiting factor to the amount of memory available in a device. Cell phones, digital cameras, portable jukeboxes, among other small-form devices will have the ability to store entire libraries of software, music, images, text and video.

New memory technology will also finds its way into upcoming space probes, next-generation satellites, robots, black boxes in vehicles, and surveillance devices, thus revolutionizing every industry. As technology shrinks, it tends to find its way into medical devices. Our own memory will be upgraded with memory systems connected to brain-computer interfaces.

If the ability to store such vast amounts of data in such small devices becomes available, rapidly proliferates, brings rapid change to all industries, and then becomes an enhancement part to the human biological animal, all in just the next ten years, what happens next?

  • Virtual worlds that rival reality in complexity and detail
  • Life recordings, and their admittance as evidence in court
  • Photographic and cinematic memories in people
  • Expert systems (a precursor to true artificial intelligence) with deep but specialized knowledge and the replacement of most if not all jobs that require such knowledge (service, manufacturing, construction, technical, etc.)
  • Replicating planetary nets (for example, a Mars Net delayed by the speed of light could be stored in its entirety in Earth-based memory systems and updated as necessary with new data from the primary Mars Net).
  • Digital uploading of humans

Even if the capacity of memory and its inverse relationship to form factor was the only technology following an exponential course into the future, many of the above technologies would become available. Of course, in reality almost every technology is following such a course. As divergent technologies converge, all bets are off.

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Richard Leis

Richard Leis is a writer and poet living in Tucson, Arizona. His poetry has been published in Impossible Archetype. His essays about fairy tales and technology have been published on Tiny Donkey and Fairy Tale Review’s “Fairy-Tale Files“.