Thanks to Microsoft, We Can Watch Superman for Thousands of Years

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The glass is created to last hundreds of years and can withstand being baked, microwaved, scoured, doused in water, demagnetized, and "other environmental threats".

Microsoft Research Cambridge collaborated with University of Southampton to develop Project Silica. Once formed, polarised light is then passed through the glass, which is decoded and read back using machine-learning algorithms.

Project Silica's application of turning digital data into physical artifacts is what piqued the interest of Warner Bros., which now uses reels of film in temperature and humidity-controlled cold storage vaults to preserve its iconic and vast library of movies and TV shows.

Microsoft just had a breakthrough that could change the way we store data long-term, and how companies like Warner Bros protect the cultural legacy of over 100 years of entertainment.

Always on the hunt for new technologies to help safeguard its vast asset library, Warner Bros. reportedly approached Microsoft after hearing about its research. This ultrafast type of lasers is able to encode data in the form of voxels, which are structured in 3D layers of nanoscale gratings with various depths and angles.

This is particularly important when it comes to the preservation of digitally-shot movies, which are typically archived by repeatedly copying and moving files across magnetic drives every few years. "We are building storage that operates at the cloud scale", said Ant Rowstron, partner deputy lab director of Microsoft Research Cambridge in the United Kingdom, which worked with the University of Southampton on Project Silica.

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Is the future of digital storage ... glass? "When we shoot something digitally - with zeros and ones representing the pixels on the screen - and print that to an analog medium called film, you destroy the original pixel values".

Warner Bros. may sound like an unusual first partner, as does Superman for a first storage experiment, but it makes sense with a bit of history. "And, sure, it looks pretty good, but it's not reversible", said Brad Collar, Warner Bros. senior vice president of global archives and media engineering.

For now, Project Silica is still at the proof-of-concept stage, but it's immensely promising.

If you want to store data securely for a very long time, what storage medium do you choose? The company says the new storage solution ensures security of archives for a longer term.

Other advantages of quartz glass over current storage systems include not requiring an air-conditioned data center and lowering total costs of creating physical archives of "cold data", or information that needs to be saved but not accessed frequently.

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