We're not really sure what the future is going to be like and sadly we don't have John Connor dropping from the sky to give us any clues. We'll probably need to tell future Earthlings a thing or two, but how do we do we make sure the information remains intact? Sapphires.
That's right — sapphire disks engraved with a little platinum for good measure have been proposed as a long-term data storage solution. And by long term, we mean a million years or so.
The disk is made from two thin disks of industrial grade gemstone, about eight inches across. It's estimated a single disk can store 40,000 miniature pages of pictures and/or text before the disks are molecularly fused together. The prototype disks, which cost an estimated $30 thousand to create will be submerged in acid to simulate ageing and test durability.
Why all fuss about communicating with future generations? Well, we humans get up to all sorts of things future generations will need to know. Things like where nuclear waste is buried so that such storage sites aren't disturbed placing people at risk. Fortunately a French nuclear waste management company ANDRA has been thinking about the problem.
The company knows sites they are building now could be used for the next 100 years and will survive much longer. While they are building in written warnings carved on stone to ensure curious future Earthlings or perhaps friendly intergalactic visitors, who knows whether they will still exist after hundreds of years of potentially harsh conditions?
So ANDRA created the Euroscience Open Forum to gather experts and interested parties from a variety of fields talk about what we might do to ensure the communication of important information to the future. Since 2010 they've been weighing the idea that written stone warnings may not work.
ANDRA researcher Patrick Charton presented the sapphire and engraved platinum solution to the forum as a solution to the physical needs. The industrial grade sapphire gem etched with platinum
It's there that their researcher Patrick Charton has unveiled the prototype sapphire and platinum solution.
A sapphire memory disk is pretty cool and it will be interesting to see how the prototype stands up to the intense testing. But the researchers and experts from the Open Forum warn that it's just the one part of the potential solution.
What else could they possibly be worried about? Language.
Archaeologists and futurists alike warn that generations to come may not speak or understand any of our languages. After all, Egyptians placed plenty of 'do not disturb' signs on their sacred tombs, but us humans dove right in anyway.
Some of that was the unrelenting drive of curiosity that pushed us dig into the tombs, as we had some understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphics. But, in the case of buried nuclear waste if future generations no longer read any known language, are still consumed with curiosity — or just don't care what the signs on those interesting bunkers might say, they could dive right in too.
Fortunately, the sapphire disk prototype is just one of the things in the works. The Euroscience Open Forum includes representatives from many countries and all walks of life — scientists, archaeologists, anthropologists, artists and more — and their goal is to identify a variety of solutions to the method and content of our warnings to the future by 2014 or 2015.
Ok, seriously? If a $30,000 sapphire disk is their first attempt, we can't wait to see what they come up with next!