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Predicted “information catastrophe” may be caused by fifth state of matter

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In the findings, published Tuesday in the journal AIP Advances, Vopson, a senior lecturer in physics at the University of Portsmouth, turns to a thermodynamics principle proposed by physicist in 1961 to explain the relationship between bits — the tiniest parts of information that make-up everything from how we send texts to how quantum computers are coded — and energy.

Elementary school science teaches us that there are four types of matter: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. But a new theoretical study says that a fifth element has been lurking right under our noses and has the potential to cause a worldwide crisis if left unabated.

No, it’s not a young woman named . This proposed fifth element is information.

In a , researcher predicts that the weight of this information could equal that of half the Earth by the year 2245, creating what the study calls an “information catastrophe.”

But before we cower in the face of this new singularity, there are a few important caveats to consider.

In the findings, published Tuesday in the journal AIP Advances, Vopson, a senior lecturer in physics at the University of Portsmouth, turns to a thermodynamics principle proposed by physicist in 1961 to explain the relationship between bits — the tiniest parts of information that make-up everything from how we send texts to how quantum computers are coded — and energy.

In a nutshell, Landauer proposed that destroying a bit of information requires a comparable dissipation of energy. With this principle in mind, it stands to reason that the creation and destruction of more and more bits of information would require the use of more and more energy.

And this is precisely the problem, says Vopson.

“The growth of digital information seems truly unstoppable,” Vopson . “According to IBM and other big data research sources, 90 percent of the world’s data today has been created in the last 10 years alone. In some ways, the current COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this process as more digital content is used and produced than ever before.”

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