In 150 years, there will be as many bits on Earth as atoms.

Digital information is sometimes considered the fifth state of matter, in addition to liquid, solid, gas and plasma. And if we don’t pay attention, our world will be largely made up of digital information. That’s what researchers warn about in a new study. “The growth of digital information really doesn’t seem to be stopping,” said researcher Melvin Vopson.

Atoms are the building blocks of the world. Everything around us is based on that one chemical process where two atoms bind and matter forms. But today we all produce a lot of digital information, or bits. Right now, we’re rapidly converting physical atoms into bits. And if that continues, we will end up in an invisible ‘digital information crisis’.

According to the researchers, we will reach a point where the number of digital bits exceeds the number of atoms on Earth. It means that we will have created a world dominated by digital bits and computer codes. Our world will then takes place largely virtually. And while this may sound rather ominous, according to researchers, it’s only a matter of time. “We’re literally changing the planet little by little,” Vopson argues. “It’s an invisible crisis.”

Actually, we’ve seen this happen in the last few decades. Indeed, 90% of the world’s current data has been produced in the last ten years. “In some ways, the current pandemic has accelerated this process,” Vopson says. “More digital content is currently being used and created than ever before.”

The problem is that the production of all this information requires an enormous amount of energy. Right now, we use a lot of resources like coal, oil, natural gas, copper, silicon and aluminum to power immense computer farms and process the digital information.

But that’s not even the only problem.

If we continue at this current rate, it means that 150 years from now on, there will be as many bits as atoms on Earth. And by 2245, the total weight of all that digital information could be equal to half the weight of the Earth.

By 2245, half the earth’s mass would have been converted into digital information mass.

Whether we are actually heading for this predicted disaster scenario at this time remains to be seen. Because although Vopson suggested in a study last year that information, like other matter, moves between states of mass and energy, this principle has not yet been conclusively proven. The researcher bases his theory on the mass energy relationship in Einstein’s general theory of relativity, the work of Rolf Landauer, who applied the laws of thermodynamics to information and the work of Claude Shannon, the inventor of the digital bit.

Joseph Mandell

Mandell is currently working towards a medical degree from the University of Central Florida. His main passions include kayaking, playing soccer and tasting good food. He covers mostly science, health and environmental stories for the Scientific Origin.