Home > Joshua Snow, Politics, Technology > DNA Data Storage: World Without Piracy or Privacy

DNA Data Storage: World Without Piracy or Privacy

Courtesy of DepositPhotos.com

Last Friday, a team of what I only imagine are mad-scientists at Harvard figured out how to store computer data on DNA strands. Before you start worrying, George “Captain Chromosome” Church and the Binary Brigade didn’t use a living creature. Instead, they managed to attach fake human DNA to a microchip to create a storage device they claim could fit the entirety of the Internet on a flash drive.

The final result housed 5.72 Megabytes and was only 1/1,000th of a gram, literally described as 600 times the capacity per space as our best alternative, with the potential of being 110 MILLION PERCENT better. Craig Venter and his team proved in 2010 that you could alter a living cell’s DNA to write your name in it. So actually I was wrong. These super-villains have stored data in a living creature. Unfortunately for them (and fortunately for us), the cells eventually expel the modified code and return to normal. That’s why the Harvard team printed just plain DNA, no organism, using an Inkjet.

The Furry Face of Dastardly DNA Deeds
Courtesy of Bloomberg

What does this mean for the lay person? Not much yet, but give a decade or so. Imagine a world of unlimited data storage – not in the way it seems to be right now, with Internet storage and terabyte drives, but with unlimited memory (including Ready Access Memory) in a device the size of your finger. With the advent of augmented reality glasses or other displays, this could shrink your computer down to a size only limited by the processor and power supply. For those wondering, they usually fit in the palm of your hand. Right now, the largest hurdle to this technology’s spread is the expense, but that’s dropping rapidly. In 2001, DNA data sequencing cost about $10 grand per 10 million base pairs; now it’s jut 10 cents.

There are a thousands good uses for this kind of storage; data centers worldwide are overwhelmed, forced to constantly upgrade or expand. This would save them, in a way. Heat output from these devices would be tiny fractions of the existing outputs, making IT work environments far more tolerable and really removing the fan and coolant industry. It would always stop the disgraceful spread of Testicular Thermal Damage caused by laptops .

Besides that, think of all the music and porn this thing will hold.

There are always downsides too. Manufacturers will lose profits on fans and coolant systems for computers. Security concerns are going to be raised when these tiny, full-power computers smaller than a Tamagotchi start walking into government buildings, movie theaters, schools, and banks. And it will mean an end to data piracy. You may think that’s a good thing, you may not. But you have pirated something, or received something legally that was originally pirated by someone else. This will one day end.

Even with the prices of DNA sequencing falling, there’s little chance that the most advanced technology will be available to the lay person. Knowing this, what self-respecting corporation would release files that didn’t include an anti-piracy script that we can’t break because it’s in DNA. The average user would have about as much chance of pirating files as Scarlet Johannsen does of turning into Russel Crowe, or Justin Bieber into a boy. While this may not seem like much to you now, I urge you one more time to think about every file you ever received from a friend, and wonder what originated from a pirate at some point.

A Data Pirate. I think

As if the end of piracy on the Digital Seas wouldn’t be bad enough, there’s more. Currently, one of the greatest deterrents to covering the globe in damn cameras and microphones is the lack of storage space for all that useless junk. 99.99% of everything they recorded would probably be more useless than paddling a canoe with a tennis racket, and it’s just not cost effective to keep buildings full of hard drives storing worthless information. With DNA storage, however, all that information could fit into a broom closet. There would be no janitors to clean a warehouse, one IT guy instead of dozens, and a much smaller chance of total memory erasure during the first disaster to come along. All the money you would have spent on leasing, staff, and general supplies can now pay for processors to sift all that data for every little thing anyone ever did wrong. Or all the things they just did normally, so as to tailor your advertising to their personalities or wardrobe, or study the mating habits of the elusive six-fingered Mormon redhead tightrope walker. That’s probably not a real thing, but if it is, someone will find it once this technology is ubiquitous.  The funny thing is, we don’t ever notice when technology like this suddenly becomes ubiquitous. One day we’re all going to go to sleep, and when we wake up, the world is going to be completely different.

 

Josh Snow is a skeptical transhumanist and some-time freelance writer. He does event coordination & security supervision for the geek community in his area, and won’t steal too much of your privacy if you follow him on Twitter @ArkangelWinter

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