It's a bird, it's a plane, it's... the latest concept test for Project Silica, Microsoft's research project that uses ultrafast laser optics and artificial intelligence to store data on quartz glass. In collaboration with Warner Bros. Entertainment, the team was able to store and retrieve the entire 1978 Superman film on a piece of glass that's about the size of a drink coaster. The silica glass is hard and can withstand being boiled in scalding water, baked in an oven or a microwave, flooded, scoured, demagnetized or otherwise subjected to factors that would destroy traditional archival mediums.
"Storing the whole 'Superman' movie in glass and being able to read it out successfully is a major milestone," Mark Russinovich, Microsoft Azure's chief technology officer, said in a release. "I'm not saying all of the questions have been fully answered, but it looks like we're now in a phase where we're working on refinement and experimentation, rather asking the question 'can we do it?'"
Warner Bros. reportedly approached Microsoft after learning about the research to protect its library, which includes media like the film Casablanca, radio shows from the 1940s and other historical items.
"That had always been our beacon of hope for what we believed would be possible one day, so when we learned that Microsoft had developed this glass-based technology, we wanted to prove it out," Warner Bros. Chief Technology Officer Vicky Colf said in a release.
How does it work? A laser encodes data in glass by creating layers of 3D nanoscale gratings at multiple depths and angles. From there, machine learning algorithms read the data by decoding the images and patterns that are created as polarized light shines through the glass, according to Microsoft. The glass can last for hundreds of years, and doesn't require being kept at a constant temperature or constant refreshing, the release noted.