Microsoft and Warner Bros. have collaborated to successfully store and retrieve the entire 1978 iconic “Superman” movie on a piece of glass roughly the size of a drink coaster, 75 by 75 by 2 millimeters thick.
It was the first proof of concept test for Project Silica, a Microsoft Research project that uses recent discoveries in ultrafast laser optics and artificial intelligence to store data in quartz glass. A laser encodes data in glass by creating layers of three-dimensional nanoscale gratings and deformations at various depths and angles. Machine learning algorithms read the data back by decoding images and patterns that are created as polarized light shines through the glass.
Warner Bros., which approached Microsoft after learning of the research, is always on the hunt for new technologies to safeguard its vast asset library: historic treasures like “Casablanca,” 1940s radio shows, animated shorts, digitally shot theatrical films, television sitcoms, dailies from film sets. For years, they had searched for a storage technology that could last hundreds of years, withstand floods or solar flares and that doesn’t require being kept at a certain temperature or need constant refreshing.
Most people think of “the cloud” as a way to store everything from thousands of family photos to millions of emails without taking up any space on your phone or computer. But all that information is being physically stored on hardware in a remote location, allowing you to access it from multiple devices.
Warner Bros. is potentially looking at Project Silica to create a permanent physical asset to store important digital content and provide durable backup copies. Right now, for theatrical releases that are shot digitally, the company creates an archival third copy by converting it back to analog film. It splits the final footage into three color components —cyan, magenta and yellow — and transfers each onto black-and-white film negatives that won’t fade like color film.