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February 13, 2015

History Could be Lost in Digital Black Hole: Vint Cerf

Father of the Internet Says as Hardware, Software Become Obsolete, Our Ability to Preserve Digital Data Will be Lost

Vint Cerf is seen in this Wikipedia file photo. By Joi Ito via Flickr.

The father of the Internet is predicting an age when all of the digital data we currently hold near and dear will be lost, possibly forever.

The problem, said Vint Cerf, while speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is not with the data itself, but with the hardware and software we have now which will eventually become obsolete.

He termed it a “digital vellum”

Cerf, a vice-president and chief Internet evangelist for Google, said family photos stored on our computers or on the cloud, slideshows, presentations and documents will eventually become inaccessible because hardware and software will have advanced to such an extent that there will no longer be any compatible programs or devices to access the material.

“We’ll just be unknowns. Forgotten, because our technology was not good enough to remember,” Cerf told the audience, adding that the ancient Egyptians will be better remembered than those of us living now.

“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,” he said as quoted by the Guardian.

“We don’t want our digital lives to fade away. If we want to preserve them, we need to make sure that the digital objects we create today can still be rendered far into the future.”

Cerf used Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book ‘Team Of Rivals: The Political Genius Of Abraham Lincoln,’ as an example to illustrate his point. Goodwin’s book was written courtesy of letters between Lincoln and his contemporaries that the author found in libraries.

With everything going digital today, an author 100 years in the future wishing to write about the year 2015 might no longer have access to our e-mail and social media posts.

All such material could well have “evaporated because nobody saved it, or it’s around but it’s not interpretable because it was created by software that’s 100 years old,” he said.

Cerf is currently working with Carnegie Mellon University and IBM to create a system dubbed Olive, (the Open Library of Images for Virtualized Execution). The system will act as a public domain library for executable content in the form of VM (virtual machine) images that can document all types of data.

Cerf also made a practical suggestion, however. When it comes to photographs and other important documents, Cerf suggests making physical copies.

“In our zeal to get excited about digitising we digitise photographs thinking it’s going to make them last longer, and we might turn out to be wrong,” he was quoted by The Independent. “I would say if there are photos you are really concerned about create a physical instance of them. Print them out.”

Via The Independent, The Guardian and The Huffington Post U.K.



Jennifer Cowan is the Managing Editor for SiteProNews.