How much information is there in the world

Or … how could we go about getting to a figure.

If an alien race decided to record every piece of information present on planet earth (they’ll somehow pause time to allow this to happen before they blow the planet to smithereens) how much space would they need? Let’s assume they’ve failed to invent data compression as they’ve spent so long inventing time manipulation and doomsday weapons.

Since ‘information’ is a bit vague how about “How much computer storage space would all the published works (books, papers, magazines, etc ) take up?”

Had anyone tried to come up with a ballpark figure for this? Is there even any possible way?

There’s lots of other considerations, what about duplicated information, what about the information on the Internet is it published, what else haven’t I thought of?


Here’s a rough guide:

(I think ‘spoken’ implies ‘published’ too)

Oops, although this page casts doubt on that factoid.

That link is interesting in the sense it brings up what counts as information, is it all text or should audio/video be included? Does nuance count as information?

Failed to invent data compression? Fine, but there are still (essentially equivalent) issues of “What coding scheme are you using?”. (Especially when discussing things like audio and video)

But I imagine the brunt of your question is captured by something like straightforward encoding of pure text in ASCII.

Do you consider “state” to be information?
In other words, do you need to record the Earth in sufficient detail to reproduce it exactly?

Thanks for the links Mangetout. Interesting, if that figure is anywhere near accurate then we’re certainly at, or near, the point we could construct the storage system.

Aye, I hadn’t really thought about video or audio, I’d kinda assumed that everything would be text. But I expect if we’re going to count discussion of art or anything like that then information would have to include pictures, audio and video too.

And, on preview, my idea wasn’t that our aliens want to be able to reproduce the earth completely just to agressively store all knowledge in case part of it comes in useful in the future.

Well, if Wikipedia (The english version) were printed out, this is how it would look.