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Should Digital Information Count as the Fifth State of Matter?

A physicist argues that, at this rate, half of Earth’s mass will be converted to digital information mass within 150 years.

A UK physicist has released a new paper where he argues that at the current rate of digital production, by 2245, half of Earth’s mass will be converted to digital information mass, making digital information the fifth state of matter. The paper, appropriately titled "The information catastrophe" is an eye-opening look at how we process information.

“How can information, a mathematical concept, be physical? To my surprise, this principle, which makes sense theoretically, has now been demonstrated experimentally,” Melvin Vopson, a physicist at the University of Portsmouth, told ZME Science.

Vopson went on to explain why he thinks digital information will be the fifth state of matter.

“Although information manifests itself in many formats including analog information, biological DNA encoded information, and digital information, the most fundamental form is the binary digital bit because it can successfully represent or duplicate all existing forms of information. This is also valid for quantum processing — q-bits, as the final output of a quantum computer is still in the binary digital format,” Vopson said.

Vopson even went so far as to speculate that the dark matter which holds galaxies together could also be made up of information. He claimed that since for over 60 years we have been trying unsuccessfully to understand what dark matter is, it could very well be information.

"If the mass-energy-information equivalence principle is correct and information has indeed mass, a digital informational universe would contain a lot of it, and perhaps the missing dark matter could be just information,” Vopson stated.

Powering our digital world

This theory seems highly improbable but what Vopson brings up that is more interesting is how much energy is needed to maintain our current and future levels of digital interactions. Vopson argues that we are slated to produce so much digital content in the near future that the number of bits produced would equal all the atoms on Earth.

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“So the question is: Where do we store this information? How do we power this? It is a wake-up call for the big data industries, internet giants, high tech companies, energy research, and environmental research. I call this the invisible crisis, as today it is truly an invisible problem, but the projections show a different story,” Vospon concluded. An interesting question indeed!

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