The IC is exploring whether polymers could be the future of data storage.
intelligence community wants to unlock more efficient ways to store the trove
of data humans generate every day, and it believes our DNA holds the key.
Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity last month issued a broad agency
research teams for the agency’s Molecular Information Storage program, which
aims to create a system for storing vast quantities of data on
sequence-controlled polymers, like human DNA.
teams would have two primary tasks over the four-year initiative: build a
table-top device that writes data onto polymers and another that reads the
information once it’s stored. Teams must also develop an operating system to
index, access and search data within the network.
program’s end, the system must be able to write one terabyte and read 10
terabytes per day, and “present a clear and commercially viable path to future
deployment at the exabyte scale” within 10 years, according to IARPA.
comparison, one exabyte is about 4 million times larger than the storage
capacity of the top iPhone X model.
exabyte-scale data centers take up huge tracts of land and can cost billions to
operate every year, an infrastructure IARPA argues will no longer be feasible
in the years to come. By 2020, the tech firm Domo estimates there will be more than 140
gigabytes of data generated daily for each human on Earth, and as the internet
of things expands, that number is only expected to grow.
resource intensive model does not offer a tractable path to scaling beyond the
exabyte regime in the future,” IARPA wrote. “Faced with exponential data
growth, large data consumers may soon face a choice between investing
exponentially more resources in storage or discarding an exponentially
increasing fraction of data.”
proposers day presentation in February, the agency outlined its vision for an
exabyte-scale storage unit that could be housed in a single room and cost less
than $1 million to run per year. Though scientists have yet to build a system
anywhere close to that scale, multiple studies have shown sequence-controlled
polymers are capable of virtually error-free data storage, according to IARPA.
estimate DNA and similar polymers can store information more than 100,000 times
more efficiently than traditional data storage technology, and polymers’ stable
molecular structure allows them to last hundreds of years without losing or
corrupting information. More efficient data storage technology could also help
researchers gain increased insights from today’s state-of-the-art supercomputers.
hoping to join the program must submit proposals by July 16.