Microsoft will store the world’s music collection on quartz wafers

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(Photo: Daniel Kivle)
Everyone knows that if the apocalypse ever comes, we’ll have to keep some items safe for future generations. We have already taken care of our plant species collections with the Global Seed Vault, aka the Doomsday Vault. This currently contains 1,145,693 backup copies of the world’s seed varieties. They will soon be joined by a new vault, which will attempt to safeguard the world’s music collection. It will be called Global Music Vault and will join the seed collection in Svalbard, Norway.

In order to accomplish this gigantic storage-related task, the organization managing the effort has brought in Microsoft as a partner. Together they embark on a trial to achieve resilient long-term archival storage. They will be using Microsoft’s Project Silica and working on a proof of concept to see if it will work for music storage. It uses quartz slices as a storage medium. The band’s press release notes that while tape is still the preferred way to archive data, it isn’t as strong as silica. Not only is silica inert, but it can withstand almost all types of environmental punishment. Referring to the concept of a glass top, the PR notes: “It can be baked, boiled, scrubbed, flooded, subjected to EMP and in other ways attempted to be tampered with, without degrading the data written in the glass.” The mountain in Norway where it is located is also considered the safest place on earth due to a mixture of geological and geopolitical stability.

This render shows what the Global Music Vault will look like when it starts accepting its first mixtapes, sometime in 2023. (Image: Global Music Vault)

Each quartz wafer (top) will be the size of a coaster, at 75 x 75mm and 2mm thick. Each plate will be able to store 100 GB of data. Data is added to the slices via a laser that creates “three-dimensional nanoscale gratings and deformations.” To retrieve the data, polarized light is used to shine through the glass. From there, a machine learning algorithm can decode it. The group says the proof-of-concept should allow the data to be retained for “several thousand years”. The Silica project has been in the works for several years now. In 2019, Microsoft successfully encoded and decoded the original Superman movie on behalf of Warner Brothers. Glass as a storage medium was also showcased recently by a project involving a 5D disc that could hold data for over 13 billion years.

The first music to be added to the vault will be a “variety of musical expressions from around the world”. It will include British artist Beatie Wolfe, songs from Sweden’s Polar Music Prize, New Zealand’s Alexander Turnbull Library and the International Library of African Music. While not a huge data dump, the group plans to eventually add tens of petabytes per year. The first contribution to the vault is expected in 2023. More information can be found on the organization’s website.

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