One of the critical elements of the Superman mythos is the tacit information transfer from Jor-El to his son, despite the former having been blown to smithereens on Krypton years earlier. In the 1978 movie, the technology used is a memory crystal containing an artificial intelligence version of the late Jor-El acting as a guide to the sum of Kryptonian knowledge about the universe.
While the self-replicating properties of these crystals are still an unknown, real-life scientists are trying to unlock the data storage capabilities of glass. The process has resulted in a storage capacity of 50 GB (the equivalent of a Blu-ray Disc) on a slice of glass about the size of a mobile phone screen.
Researchers from Optoelectronics Research Centre at Southampton University have developed a technique for computer memory using lasers and glass. This glass memory, they claim, is more stable than current storage techniques for hard drive memory, offering higher resistance to temperature, moisture and time. It is also about 20 times cheaper than current techniques.
The technique uses a silver dollar-sized circle of glass as an Optical Vortex Converter to create whirlpools of polarized light. A laser cuts tiny dots — 3D pixels, or voxels — into the surface, changing the opacity of the glass and giving optical detectors something to read. Data can be written and re-written into the molecular structure of the glass, a durable material that can withstand temperatures of 1800 degrees (F). The academic paper published in Applied Physics Letters is available online (PDF).
The ORC scientists who developed the technique and published their research are working with Altechna to bring the tech to market. As vortex drives work their way toward shelves at Best Buy, companies and institutions with large archives (like museums) can dream about eliminating the data protection cycles that force replacements of hard drives every 5-10 years.
I’m suddenly picturing my drawers of old Zip drives and CDs being replaced by a penholder filled with thin data rods containing all of our family photos, videos and media collection. When that happens, some company better make a memory crystal that glows green automatically when my child comes of age.