Britannica Blog complains last October's Adamant essay, Weighing the Web has been copy catted by How Much Does The Internet Weigh ? , but I'm scarcely piqued Discover 's 100 Top Science Stories of 2002 issue celebrates my work on jade archaeology. Discover's Steve Cass insists they
"scanned technical databases, tore through reference books, Googled like crazy, and checked with experts. It soon became apparent that if we wanted an answer, we were going to have to work it out for ourselves, as no one else appears to have tackled this question before. So we put our thinking caps on and set the coffee machine on extra strong."
It must have been decaf. Googling How much does the internet weigh? still yields four Page 1 links to :
WEIGHING THE WEB
The Internet weighs two ounces .
Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard's comparison of his home energy costs to Google's multi-gigabuck annual power bill is intriguing. $1,200 a month is rather a lot of Pacific Gas & Electric.
But like Al Gore's 22.6 Megawatt hour a month Eco-mansion , it only serves to make the $3 a year per capita it takes to power the global internet seem a roaring bargain, even by third world standards. Still, my dollar a day ISP bill gives me no joy , because the electrons I feed my pet laptop are costing me about half a billion dollars a pound. Let me explain.
I'm taking about the power that drives the bytes , not lights the lights. Geodesic dome guru Bucky Fuller baffled architects by asking how much their buildings weighed? Not being paid by the pound , few cared , but mass and energy matter more than ever in the aftermath of 9-11. Built like a Hummer on steroids , the Empire State Building shrugged off a bomber crash in 1945 while the World Trade Center's economy model frame collapsed. So how much does the internet weigh ? And how many horsepower does it take to run it ?
While the original DARPA net was built like a tank to survive a thermonuclear holocaust , much post-modern net construction is utterly gossamer, all air and microwaves. But those channels lead to boxes full of integrated circuits bearing labels that specify how much power they can handle, and solid state physics reveals what fraction of the silicon inside is abuzz with electrons in motion , and how much sits idle. In short, you can do the math.
A statistically rough ( one sigma) estimate might be 75-100 million servers @ ~350-550 watts each. Call it Forty Billion Watts or ~ 40 GW. Silicon logic runs at three volts or so, and as the electron's mass is 9.1 x ten to the minus 31 grams, an Ampere is some ten to the eighteenth electrons a second, and the average chip runs at a Gigaherz , fairly straightforward calculation reveals that some 50 grams of electrons in motion make up the Internet.
Applying the unreasonable power of dimensional analysis to the small tonnage of silicon involved yields much the same answer. The flip side of Moore's Law is that as etched circuitry shrinks , the transistors within the silicon pizzas chip foundries produce end up weighing next to nothing. State-of-the-art 100 nanometer transistors run a million trillion to a ton . So as of today, cyberspace weighs less than two ounces.
It's hard to be more exact ,since devices vary in speed, but to get a handle on The Whole Web instead of just the suburbs we're wired to , try tripling that figure-there are maybe ten times more mostly idle CPU chips in PC's than servers, and fewer very busy ones in the world's comparative handful of supercomputers .
Each person alive today has six watts of computational power at the disposal of their twenty watt brain . Third Worlders have trouble accessing claim their six watt share of the worlds computing horsepower , but wired Americans or Japanese expend more energy on surfing than thinking.Yet the net has more than electrons inside-- a lot of its wire and fiber optic infrastructure is shared.. Some cables crackle with live TV bandwidth while others slumber-- the mix of traffic is unpredictable , and cable trunks branch like trees.
It is easy to put a tape measure to this shaggy creature's backbone, but the length of its hairy nervous system is hard to guess at . It may take a staggering four miles of copper wire to connect the average US home to optical broadband . With copper at three dollars a pound , that 25 pound wire to optical cable link makes ultratransparent glass fiber a staggering bargain at ten times its weight in gold--it does the work of a billion times its weight in copper. Its almost infinite bandwidth has pared the web down to run impressively well on ten nanograms of electrons per netizen, a figure optical computing may alter little , for it takes electrons to make photons.
Just as well- if the net ran on recycled light , it would be weightless as an IP lawyer's word. As matters stand , it takes a lot of force to horse those critical 50 grams of electrons around. This message was brought to you by a few nanograms of electrons, but when rush hour users race their silicon engines , fifty million horsepower is unleashed on the information superhighway. But hold your horses- that power bill ain't hay, and silicon foundries are devising ways to cut it down to size- a 68 watt server chip is in the works.
But what about quantum computation ? Though its future is dazzling , it may take a whie to accelerate into it . Singularity fans need to think about delay s due to restarting the clock on Moore's Law.
In the here and now, quantum computing is embodied in bench-filling kluges that devour a fair fraction of a horsepower per Q-bit . Yet though it takes a while to teach a baby elephant how to run , once it gets going.........
Copyright 2006 Russell Seitz all rights reserved .