We may still be a ways away from worrying about how many iotabytes your computer can hold, but the international standards community has added two new prefixes for even higher numbers than that – ronna for 1027 and quetta for 1030.
At a conference in Paris last week, representatives of numerous governments gathered to vote on the official names of these enormous magnitude indicators. The last time they did this was in 1991, when the now familiar zeta and iota were added, as well as zepto and jocto for their respective negative powers of 10.
As you may have guessed, we already have conditions for all 10-27 and 10-30: ronto and quecto.
Although there are a few things that cannot be adequately described in terms of existing prefixes, it’s kind of nice to have single units for some familiar rocks. For example, as nature directs, the mass of the Earth is about a ronogram, and the mass of an electron is about a kwectogram. Handy when weighing them in the kitchen.
More importantly, though, it provides little room for data science to grow, where we’re already talking about “exascale” computing and zettabytes of data – in fact, as a planet, we’re expected to produce a iotabyte per year in 2030, unless something happens blessed intervention. What next?
If you asked a week ago, the answer might have been “helabytes” and then “brontobytes,” which are actually great terms but, as Richard Brown, the British metrologist who suggested the prefixes, warned Nature, “totally unofficial.” Unfortunately, the prefixes also conflict with existing abbreviations, and probably no one in Southern California would tolerate having to use “hella” in any formal context.
“I didn’t particularly want to be a killer, although that comes into play,” Brown said – for the winner’s spoils and all, but no need to get involved, Richard. In any case, the conference cited “the importance of timely action to prevent the actual adoption of unofficial prefix names in other communities” as one reason for adopting the new ones.
Ronna and quetta were arrived at after years of discussion and elimination of alternatives. It is perhaps strange that the new term should be so close to ‘rona’, something we would prefer not to be reminded of, but we can take solace in the fact that we are unlikely to need the term for years to come, and hopefully by then the pandemic will be a distant memory (and, hopefully, not because it was overshadowed by a worse one).