History Will Be Lost, Warns Google Vice President
Vint Cerf, a “father of the Internet” and now Google Vice President, warns that piles of emails, photos, videos, and tweets could be lost if we don’t preserve the software and hardware required to run them. Since almost every other artifact is being digitized, loss of software and hardware could result in “forgotten generation, or even a forgotten century,” Cerf believes.
Future historians would not be able to access or run old files having data of generation, Vint Cerf addressed the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in San Jose, California. He said that losing the commodities required to view data would cause “bit rot” when old computer files would become defunct.
We are busy producing a large amount of data that represents how we live our digital lives, how we talk with each other, and what are our daily activities. Different successful startups are working on digitizing each and every object of our lives, hoping that we are preserving them and these would be useful for our future generations. Google also has a similar program under the hood that is digitizing the artifacts found in the museum.
What we fail to realize is the fact that every preserved file needs a software to interpret. For example, PDFs are opened through a PDF reader, and Word documents are seen and edited in Microsoft Word. So if at some point in future, these software or utilities that make us “see” what is inside a file are lost, it would mean saying good bye to petabytes of information that could be used by future historians to know about us.
“When you think about the quantity of documentation from our daily lives that is captured in digital form, like our interactions by email, people’s tweets, and all of the world wide web, it’s clear that we stand to lose an awful lot of our history,” said Cerf.
Cerf proposed the development of “digital vellum” that would preserve old software and hardware so that out-of-date files could still be useful no matter how old they are.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have been working on finding a solution to digital rot. In the project called Olive, they have managed to take digital snapshots of hard drives while different software programs are being run on the computer. These snapshots are then uploaded to another computer which can mimic the one that ran the software. They have successfully archived Mystery House, a graphic adventure game for the Apple II developed in 1982, an early version of WordPerfect, and Doom, the original 1993 first person shooter game.
The problems do not end here. We talk so much about privacy and want to keep our communications private. Think about Obama’s email to White House that results in major changes in the government plans. The future generations would not be able to read them, resulting in loss of useful information about people of 21st century.
A digital vellum is certainly the need of time if we want to preserve our history.