There may be nothing in the universe more mysterious than a black hole, but the first photograph of one such formation in the Messier 87 galaxy made the phenomenon a little more familiar. In April, the image of a glowing red ring got its 15 minutes of fame.
A second photo featured Event Horizon Telescope computer scientist Katherine Bouman next to a table covered with hard drives, which held information from eight observatories that contributed to the black hole image. Some technology professionals responded with incredulity at this physical sign of the “old school” methods the team used for data transmission—namely, shipping via FedEx.
The reason for turning to air cargo in place of data cables is simple. Using internet connections to send five petabytes from Hawaii, the Chilean desert and Antarctica, among other locations, to the compilation centre at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology would take years. Shipping mirrored hard drives, however, takes mere hours.
Using aeroplanes for data transmission related to a groundbreaking scientific project is surprisingly emblematic of the new era the world is entering. Our growing ability to monitor and track nearly everything around us will soon overwhelm our resources for storing and sending all that data. Creative alternatives are urgently required.
Most of us have read the statistics: global data volumes are expected to reach 175 zettabytes by 2025. Sensors are ascendant, and devices will soon generate far more information than humans with our documents, videos, texts, and other outputs. How we will manage the forthcoming data explosion is unclear. Like the black hole photo, we can see the outlines, but the detail remains out of focus.
The data transmission problem
One trillion gigs of data and counting will present two critical challenges for the technosphere. First of all, it is impossible to efficiently transmit such a massive amount of information

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