Planet Harddrive

[Image: “Conceptual diagram of satellite triangulation,” courtesy of the Office of NOAA Corps Operations (ONCO)].

I’ve long been fascinated by what I might call the geological nature of harddrives – how certain mineral arrangements of metal and ferromagnetism result in our technological ability to store memories, save information, and leave previous versions of the present behind.

A harddrive would thus be a geological object as much as it is a technical one: a content-rich, heavily processed re-configuration of the earth’s surface.

[Image: Geometry in the sky. “Diagram showing conceptual photographs of how satellite versus star background would appear from three different locations on the surface of the earth,” courtesy of the Office of NOAA Corps Operations (ONCO)].

Perhaps someday we won’t need harddrives at all: we’ll simply use geology itself. In other words, what if we could manipulate the earth’s own magnetic field and thus program data into the natural energy curtains of the planet?

The earth would become a kind of spherical harddrive, with information stored in those moving webs of magnetic energy that both surround and penetrate its surface.

This extends yet further into an idea that perhaps whole planets out there, turning in space, are actually the harddrives of an intelligent species we otherwise have yet to encounter – like mnemonic Death Stars, they are spherical data-storage facilities made of content-rich bedrock – or, perhaps more interestingly, we might even yet discover, in some weird version of the future directed by James Cameron from a screenplay by Jules Verne, that the earth itself is already encoded with someone else’s data, and that, down there in crustal formations of rock, crystalline archives shimmer.

I’m reminded of a line from William S. Burroughs’s novel The Ticket That Exploded, in which we read that beneath all of this, hidden in the surface of the earth, is “a vast mineral consciousness near absolute zero thinking in slow formations of crystal.”

[Image: “An IBM HDD head resting on a disk platter,” courtesy of Wikipedia].

In any case, this all came to mind again last night when I saw an article in New Scientist about how 3D holograms might revolutionize data storage. One hologram-encoded DVD, for instance, could hold an incredible 1000GB of information.

So how would these 3D holograms be formed?

“A pair of laser beams is used to write data into discs of light-sensitive plastic, with both aiming at the same spot,” the article explains. “One beam shines continuously, while the other pulses on and off to encode patches that represent digital 0s and 1s.”

The question, then, would be whether or not you could build a geotechnical version of this, some vast and slow-moving machine – manufactured by Komatsu – that moves over exposed faces of bedrock and “encodes” that geological formation with data. You would use it to inscribe information into the planet.

To use a cheap pun, you could store terrabytes of information.

But it’d be like some new form of plowing in which the furrows you produce are not for seeds but for data. An entirely new landscape design process results: a fragment of the earth formatted to store encrypted files.

Data gardens.

They can even be read by satellite.

[Image: The “worldwide satellite triangulation camera station network,” courtesy of NOAA’s Geodesy Collection].

Like something out of H.P. Lovecraft – or the most unhinged imaginations of early European explorers – future humans will look down uneasily at the earth they walk upon, knowing that vast holograms span that rocky darkness, spun like inexplicable cobwebs through the planet.

Beneath a massive stretch of rock in the remotest state-owned corner of Nevada, top secret government holograms await their future decryption.

The planet thus becomes an archive.

(Earlier on BLDGBLOG: Geomagnetic Harddrive).

56 thoughts on “Planet Harddrive”

  1. that’s a hell of an interesting idea. seriously dude, you need to be writing screenplays or novels or something.

  2. Fascinating. In some ways, planets already are hard drives, storing the complexities of geological and biological systems.

    It’s also interesting to think about scaling the opposite direction – that someday we could store all of our information in the state of an electron . . . in the clothing we wear, or the objects we manipulate.

  3. more on Matrioshka Brains- Charles Stross wrote a book called Accelerando that deals with the formation of a Matrioshka Brain in our own solar system by the sentient spambots and autonomous corporations that we spawn in the next decade. MBs are made of computronium, a form of matter which is entirely devoted to processing/storage/computation. Each layer of the brain feeds off the waste heat of the previous nested layer (like Russian dolls) and within this massive computing network, all possible civilizations are resimulated endlessly. Eventually, that portion of the human species which is not Economics 2.0 compliant (a process which is necessary to participate in Matrioshka society, but which destroys your humanity) leaves the solar system to inhabit a network of interstellar data routers, because a Matrioshka Brain is NOT a comfortable environment for flesh-and-blood humans.

    Available at for free.

  4. The seafloor has been recording the polarity of the earth’s magnetic field for a long time. As the floor spreads apart, magma bubbles up. When it solidifies it’s magnetic filed is aligned to that of the earth. As a result, there are strips of alternating polarity on the seafloor. I wonder what those magnetometer traces would sound like if sped up to be in an audible frequency range. Geomagnetic music anyone?

  5. I watched a special a while back about NASA archaeologist Dr. Tom Sever who was using the organization’s high-res satellite “cameras” to locate previously unfound Mayan ruins. According to the story Sever and his team were recognizing patterns in the placement of different types of Mayan development and, in a style not unlike that of scientists with the periodic table, predicting where other developments “should” be… and then actually finding them (or at least one at the time of the airing), leaving one to envision a patterned network overlaid across the Central American landscape, waiting for discovery and interpretation.

  6. “The Bay Area was rocked this morning by a fatal disk error reaching 6.5 on the Richter scale at 4:34 AM PST. Residents are advised to be prepared for post-crash data dumps.”

  7. Douglas Adams covered this ground too, so to speak, in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. Having discovered the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, which in case you were wondering is 42, aliens then construct the Earth as a computer to find out what the Question is.

  8. Adam Rothstein touched on my question with his comment: how do you deal with natural and manmade changes, such as earthquakes and earthmoving? Possibly even smaller-scale events such as a landslide or a new feature such as a tunnel or a road could corrupt your data.

  9. I think Terry Pratchett covered this one too, in The Dark Side Of The Sun. The First Syrian Bank is a planet composed largely of silicon which has become a sentient computer at some point in its history, since when it has become the central bank for the rest of the galaxy and the godfather of the novel’s protagonist.

  10. isnt the earth already like that? we have fossils and minerals, and records of various environmental, geological, biological, and universal changes in our history due to the earth itself. we learned how to read all of this stuff, and translate it into meaningful concepts.

    so therefore, the earth already is a hard drive, and all matter in the universe is inscribed with information about its history…probably even at the molecular level?

  11. Walter Jon Williams, _Aristoi_

    Moons are converted into data storage units by nanotech.

    It also happens to be a really good book.

  12. you’re on to something here — but the missing geology in preserving holographic type imprints would be crystals like the crystal caves seen on discovery the other week. Why do you think Superman recharged in one?

  13. I know many here will think this is a joke and I really shouldn’t even say this; However I’m from the future and we are watching in 2031 us humans will learn the truth to everything. Just hang in there friends!

  14. I’m surprised at how you can take such an interesting idea (rehashed, derivative, etc. though it may be) and suck all the life out of it without adding anything new or thought-provoking. Seriously. Stick to the masturbatory poetry and stop attempting to speculate on higher-order technologies.

  15. @crippled pud – don’t be such a dick – I actually really enjoyed this post, and it seems like plenty of other people did as well.

  16. The title actually made me think of a 60’s novelette’Simulachron 3′ which became the movie ‘The 13th Floor’ a few years ago. In that case, however, our world was a computer simulation. Since it predated the Matrix by decades, it was hardly a ‘copycat’ idea.
    Various religions have identified planets and suns as dieties : Gaiea would be an obvious one.But I don’t think anybody has pulled out the stops on what should be an up-and-coming fantasy : a planetary quantum computer.

  17. So, if you put a magnet next to a computer’s hard drive, it breaks.

    What happens when you put the Earth’s magnetic field up against, say, a huge flux of ionized particles from a solar flare? That’s a lot of magnets.

    Or is the Sun’s activity also controlled by aliens, and solar flares merely their means of adjusting the code? lol.

  18. think of this…

    upon looking for evidence of gravitational waves, scientists found out weird things happening at the plank level. turns out we may actually be holograms.

    if thats the case, our universe could be a 2-d brane in a muliverse. one of which has stored their information in the form of holograms which just so happens to be our universe.

  19. It is not a future concept. It already exists !!! In India Yogis have already found that planets in the solar system actually work as memory devices and different planets storing different data and the receivers and transmitters exist in human body. This they called it as Akasa the sky records which stores everything the humans experience and transfers to next lives. In fact everything we experience is not stored in brain and brain actually works as a converter, transmitter and receiver of data collecting from different hubs in body called Pranic Chakras. The Chakras work on Prana the cosmic energy ( unified energy ) the scientists are trying to find now. The astrology in India is so developed and authenticates the existence of it and an experienced astrologer can exactly tell you what exactly you did last minute and what you are going to do next minute. They have proposed the theory of Karma based on this doctrine and built a society long long back. They have even mastered the art of astrogenetics through which able to produce what kind of a child can be had.

  20. impressive imagination!

    I like science fiction, and love to
    dream about something with fantastic imagination as well.
    But I usually feel frustrated,
    because my imagination is
    always limited within
    what I’v already known.
    Exactly since I’v known “hard disk”, then I use the idea of hard disk to construct the idea – we are digital bits in a universal-wide hard disk.

    While we can use any technology to
    explore and understand the whole universe, maybe “the God” is doing
    the same thing – constructing us
    to understand the meaning of being “a God”. lol

  21. If we store our data in gardens…will it be susceptible to theft? Or does it really even need sunlight? Perhaps a dusty attic or dank basement would work 😛

  22. I’ve run with this theory that past civilizations were harnessing the magnetic pole power of our earth through pyramids, etc. Pyramid’s interior cells look like the schematic of a battery, and the word pyramid stems from the words “pyre” (fire) “amid” (in the middle.) As if it was a magnetic volcano. Imagine placing these magnetic poles strategically across a barren landscape, which our planet could have been, and it stabilizes the earth to create an atmosphere, or the conditions necessary for life. Look into things such as monatomic elements, which the egyptians knew about, and i believe they used while in the pyramid to physically supercede our dimension. . . You never know.

  23. Interesting concept …

    That we can think of a number of “bad sectors” on our planet already .. makes it a viable concept 🙂

  24. i dig it. and though your entry doesn’t really address it (anonymous on 2/5 did) – i would guess that humankind (and/or all flora-fauna) could be considered components of the overall “data garden”. what’s more, the process of our evolution is a higher level of the programming, enabling exponential data storage expansion, like database scaling — especially if you buy the Homo Evolutis idea…then, of course, robotics that evolve would further this program even faster & more efficiently.

    given that DNA emits and absorbs light, i have to think Carl Sagan was onto something…and perhaps after the data garden exceeds storage capacity, some components will evolve into beams of highly concentrated, intelligent beams of light.

  25. That is a very interesting read and concept. Do you think it is possible that Mayan prophecies and all the mysteries surrounding the pyramids could be “proof” of this concept? Would end times prophecies like nuclear war and a comet strike be a massive reformat? Then, could life be re-installed in whatever format the aliens wanted. Just thinking out loud here.

  26. While not technically part of the Earth itself, glaciers record climate data which can be read through ice cores. I guess it’s more similar to security camera that is always running then a true storage device.

  27. I agree. Let’s hack nature. Holograms.
    I’m gonna see if I can get that BLDGBLOG book. Meanwhile you can check out my book on this topic:

    Simulation Theory.

    or find it on amazon.

    I’m all for advancing technology further than it should go. I don’t ask “should we” and I already am certain that “could we” is not only probable, not only possible, but inevitable and why delay it.

  28. By just the mere fact of something existing, it is to be recorded. We observe the Sun as it was 8 minutes ago, and we observe other stars and planets as they were millions of years ago. With the right telescope or radar being used, we can intercept whatever is and once was. It just depends how far our equipment is away from the object we are trying to observe is as to what time period we want to capture.

  29. As a geologist i think this is a pretty good thought experiment.

    Here are two things to overcome if you choose to explore this idea further: the ‘magnetic curtain’ of the earth fluctuates constantly; and interference from the sun which warps the earths magnetic field all the time. The data would be a great risks.

    keep it going.

  30. But what information would you store with this? A 3D model of the earth with 100% accuracy? And the “disc reader” could be just a set of extremely accurate electromagnetic scanners, right? You should really read up about
    1. conservation of information
    2. language theory
    3. encryption

  31. Sorry. I like what you have to say about buildings, but electronics is not your thing. The earth’s magnetic field only stores one piece of information (which way is north), and there is no way to make a lasting encoding, digital or otherwise, in an uncontrolled environment. See, for example, the Acropolis or the Pyramids which despite heavy-duty construction and an optimal match of materials and environment have suffered data loss over time.

  32. Seems extravagant. Why don’t we rearrange the stars while we’re out reconfiguring the earth’s magnetic field? This would never happen because:

    1) There’s no profit in it
    2) It’s not convenient
    3) Environmentalists would kill you for altering nature

    It’s much more realistic to store data on DNA. One gram of DNA can hold 2.25 zettabytes. Storing information on the earth doesn’t seem to have any benefit. Screw information theory, read a book on economics.

  33. Was thinking of the very same concept when I found your blog. I may be wrong but this concept seems more tuned to reading earth's "data" as opposed to writing it.

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