Given the facility’s scale and the fact that a terabyte of data can now be stored on a flash drive the size of a man’s pinky, the potential amount of information that could be housed in Bluffdale [the site of the facility] is truly staggering. But so is the exponential growth in the amount of intelligence data being produced every day by the eavesdropping sensors of the NSA and other intelligence agencies. As a result of this “expanding array of theater airborne and other sensor networks,” as a 2007 Department of Defense report puts it, the Pentagon is attempting to expand its worldwide communications network, known as the Global Information Grid, to handle yottabytes (1024 bytes) of data. (A yottabyte is a septillion bytes—so large that no one has yet coined a term for the next higher magnitude.)
It needs that capacity because, according to a recent report by Cisco, global Internet traffic will quadruple from 2010 to 2015, reaching 966 exabytes per year. (A million exabytes equal a yottabyte.) In terms of scale, Eric Schmidt, Google’s former CEO, once estimated that the total of all human knowledge created from the dawn of man to 2003 totaled 5 exabytes. And the data flow shows no sign of slowing. In 2011 more than 2 billion of the world’s 6.9 billion people were connected to the Internet. By 2015, market research firm IDC estimates, there will be 2.7 billion users. Thus, the NSA’s need for a 1-million-square-foot data storehouse. Should the agency ever fill the Utah center with a yottabyte of information, it would be equal to about 500 quintillion (500,000,000,000,000,000,000) pages of text.
This rang a very old bell: a short story that I’d read as a boy in a science-fiction anthology called 17 x Infinity, published in 1963. This prescient tale, MS fnd n a Lbry, was written by Hal Draper in 1961, and was in the form of a report, written far in the future by alien archaeologists, on the collapse of our civilization (always a hot topic, of course, here at waka waka waka). The cause? Well, it’s short enough that you might as well just go read it yourself.