Since the start of my journey at M&S Biotics, I have taken part in or have attended numerous technology conferences, business competitions, seminars, and lectures. Like many entrepreneurs in this space, I have had the chance to hear many of the ideas for the future of technology. One term that gets repeated time and time again in almost every pitch, lecture, seminar, and conference is Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI is just a computer system that allows a machine to simulate intelligent behavior. One sector of AI that I am particularly fascinated in and involved with is machine learning. Machine learning explores the study and construction of algorithms that learn from and make predictions on data. This is a huge deal for not only the technology sector but any industry that can gain a competitive advantage from being able to make large data sets readable and usable. With the right machine learning algorithm, not only can you generate tons of important information from once unreadable data sets, but the more data the algorithm reads and deciphers, the smarter and more intuitive it becomes. This is why we see almost every sector of business trying to deploy (whether it is beneficial or not) some form of machine learning in their practices. It is the "hot" new technology, and nobody wants to miss out.
As I was trying to keep up with my current events, I came across an article in the Wall Street Journal that I thought was remarkable. It was titled "What's stored in DNA?" This particular article started off by talking about the overload of information that we are creating day in and day out, and it got me thinking about how many times I have heard businesses talk about artificial intelligence, machine learning, and Big Data. Every company wants the advantages these sciences offer, but where are they going to store these massive data sets? This article stated that "analysts at IBM Corp. estimate that 90% of all the electronic data in the world has been created in the past two years.” And with the explosion of data mining and AI, I do not foresee that trend stopping anytime soon. So, what do we do when we run out of places to store all this information? Have no fear tech people, scientists (my background is in Biology, hence why I am so excited about this) are attempting to put all the anxiety to rest.
In “What’s stored in DNA?” it explains that researchers from Columbia University and the New York Genome Center have been experimenting with ways to store information using the biological instructions for all known living things, better known as DNA. In the research experiment, they were able to store and retrieve a 122-year-old French movie, and entire computer operating system, and a $50 Amazon gift card all in a single drop of DNA. Anyone who has ever taken the basic high school biology course has had to memorize the four base chemicals that make up DNA I'm sure. They are adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine but are usually represented by the first letter in each chemical. Researchers converted their digital data, which is usually stored on a computer as binary code, into the four base chemicals. They turned a bunch of 0's and 1's into A's, G's, C's, and T's.
So, what is the big deal? Well, when these researchers converted the data, not only were they able to store unbelievable amounts of data, but they showed that the stability and lifespan of the data sets increased drastically. The article stated, "Their big achievement is demonstrating high data density-in this case 215 petabytes per gram of DNA.” This stat is unbelievable if you understand how large a petabyte is. For those who don’t, consider this: “That is an amount of information roughly equivalent to billions of filing cabinets of text. In theory, a DNA storage system could reduce the entire Library of Congress to a small cube of DNA crystals.” In regards to the stability and lifespan, the article said: "Due to being perfected by eons of evolution, the stability and lifespan of the DNA molecules are measured in centuries and far exceeds that of hard drives or magnetic tape, which means data can be stored safely for longer periods." This could be the scientific breakthrough technology needs. If this can become commercially viable in the near future, it is saying that we can store a nearly infinite amount of data without worrying about its stability and lifespan. With that being said, this technology can’t come soon enough. Per the analytics company Domo, we are nearing an information overload and soon will not have the available resources to handle it. Domo calculates that “the world’s information overload is growing by 350,000 tweets, 2.5 million Instagram posts, 3 million Facebook updates and 4 million Google search queries every minute - not to mention millions of uploaded photographs, music files, and videos.” Oh yeah, these numbers don’t include every business seemingly trying to take part in the machine learning boom.
I understand that all this information can be very overwhelming and only super exciting to science and tech nerds like me, so I will end this post trying to make this very simple for everyone. First, we live in a tech-savvy world where everyone is connected constantly. Everything we do from online shopping, checking out our favorite social media sites, watching Youtube or Netflix, or grocery shopping is being tracked and stored for data in the hopes that this information can give some company somewhere a competitive edge. Next, with everything being tracked and stored, we are experiencing a data overload. The traditional methods of storing data have never had a data surge this large in history and are filling up faster than we can create more places to store things. This leaves us with two options: either stop creating so much data (which will never happen) or create a new way to store larger data sets. With this research, we are one step closer to the latter. And let me put this in perspective for you. Remember above when I said how much data we are accruing every minute through social media, internet searches, and downloads? That amount of data "is enough to fill 10 million Blu-ray discs" according to this study. What the crazy part is, that same amount of data would only fill "a flask of DNA." So you can choose what method your company would prefer, but I can assure you, I speak for everyone at M&S Biotics when I say we would be the first customer of a DNA storage system and I can’t wait to see what the unbelievable world of science comes up with next!
Vice President & Co-Founder