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TWENTY YEARS AGO electronic health records were nascent, digital music was mostly a fantasy, Twitter was what birds did, and Google cofounder Sergey Brin was a summer intern at Wolfram Research. The past two decades have seen a nuclear explosion in the collection and storage of digital information. In 2012, 2.8 zettabytes—that’s 1 sextillion bytes, or the equivalent of 24 quintillion tweets—were created or replicated, according to the research firm IDC. There are hundreds or thousands of petabyte-scale databases today, and we’d compare their size to what existed two decades ago, only every time the basis of comparison would be zero. Here’s a look at some of the world’s largest and most interesting data sets:


By Joanna Pearlstein


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