(ORDO NEWS) — Over the past 24 hours, people have uploaded over 720,000 hours of video content to YouTube.
According to calculations made a few years ago by University of Portsmouth physicist Melvin Vopson, this literal mass of visual images along with half a billion tweets, countless texts, billions of WhatsApp messages and all the other bits and bytes of information we have created could make our planet a little heavier.
This is a wild concept that is unlikely to be accepted without a lot of evidence. An experiment recently proposed by Vopson, based on antimatter explosions, could convince the scientific community that information can not only have mass, but also be a strange new state of matter.
Information theory is not easy to grasp. We can easily imagine loading a code of 1s and 0s that tells our computer what sounds and images to display, but the information can also be applied to non digital things, such as characteristics that tell particles how to behave.
This makes it an important factor in describing things like the amount of order and energy changes that make up a system.
In the early 1960s, German-American physicist Rolf Landauer predicted the minimum energy change to erase information from any system.
While this may seem like a minor realization, the implications of this prediction are profound: at a fundamental level, information loss is due to the emission of thermal radiation.
Experiments over many years have confirmed Landauer’s reasoning down to the quantum level, indicating that there is at least something in the fundamental amount of energy associated with changing information.
If we also take into account Einstein’s calculations, as Wopson does, then the fundamental change in energy must equal the change in mass, meaning that all the information we create every day contributes a tiny but non zero contribution to the planet’s mass.
Taken to the extreme, the exponential accumulation of cat videos, Wikipedia entries, Twitter skirmishes, and car songs on TikTok will have shocking consequences far into the future.
Not only can we run out of material to store all of this data, but the unlimited growth of digital technology will lead to the fact that a significant part of the mass of the Earth will end up in the form of digital information.
According to some experts, in 350 years the weight of our digital bits may exceed the weight of all atoms on Earth.
If we discard doomsday information crisis scenarios, such a theory could change how we calculate mass under certain circumstances and lead to new theories that can give us a better idea of the nature of dark matter.
Detecting the incredibly small mass changes expected for today’s information-dense storage systems is still far beyond our ability for now, the hypothesis remains in the “fun speculation” basket.
But a new experiment proposed by Vopson could change everything by applying Landauer’s prediction to elementary particles.
Assuming that the total mass of an electron consists of its own rest energy and a tiny amount of information about itself, then theoretically it will radiate a predictable spectrum of energy in the form of photons released when it encounters antimatter – a positron.
“The information in an electron is 22 million times smaller than its mass, but we can measure the information content by erasing it,” Vopson says.
“We know that when a particle of matter collides with an antimatter particle, they annihilate each other. And the information from the particle must go somewhere when it annihilates.”
The search for very specific wavelengths of radiation from the annihilation of an information rich electron will make it possible to establish a connection between information as a form of energy within particles, and not as some other characteristic of thermodynamics in a larger system.
The discovery of some internal, information based energy component as a fundamental characteristic of matter can also qualify as a new kind of physical state.
Not only can atoms combine as solids, flow like liquids and gases, dissipate like plasma, and harmonize like Bose-Einstein condensates, they can reduce disorder as information carriers.
Until the experiment is done, the hypothesis will remain a controversial, albeit intriguing, idea. But if it turns out to be true, the consequences can be truly massive.
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