We may still be far from worrying about how many yottabytes your computer can hold, but the international standards community has added two new prefixes for even larger numbers – runa, for 1027 and Quetta for 1030.
At a conference in Paris last week, representatives from several governments gathered to vote on the official names for these gigantic indicators of scale. The last time they did this was in 1991, when the now-familiar zetta and yotta, plus zepto- and yocto- were added to their respective negative ten powers.
As you might have guessed, we now have terms of 10-27 and 10-30: Ronto and Kiko.
While there are few things that can’t be adequately described in terms of the prefixes present, it’s nice to have singular units of some familiar scale. For example, as shown by Nature, the mass of the Earth is about a Rungergram, and the mass of an electron is approximately equal to the quadrilateral. Convenient when you’re weighing them in the kitchen.
More importantly, this provides a little room for growth in data science, where we’re already talking about “exascale” computing and zettabytes of data – in fact, as a planet we expect to be producing yottabytes a year in the 2030s, unless some blessed intervention happens. What’s Next?
If you asked a week ago, the answer might have been “hellabytes” and then “brontobytes,” fancy terms indeed, but as Richard Brown, the British metrologist who suggested the prefixes, warned Nature, “quite informal.” Unfortunately, the prefixes also conflict with the existing abbreviations, and no one in Southern California would probably agree to use the word “hella” in any formal context.
“I didn’t particularly want to be happy,” said Brown, “though that also comes in this matter”—of the victor and the spoils and all that, but there’s no need to get rid of it, Richard. In any event, the conference cited “the importance of timely action to prevent de facto adoption of informal prefix names in other societies” as one of the reasons for the adoption of the new names.
Runa and Koita were reached after years of discussion and weeding out alternatives. Perhaps it’s odd that the new term is so close to “rona,” something we’d rather not be reminded of, but we may take comfort in the fact that we’re unlikely to need the term for years to come and hope that the pandemic will be a distant memory by then (hopefully, Not because it is overshadowed by worse).