Internet Pioneer Warns of Information Black Hole

    Feb 25, 2015

    Imagine the volumes of information being digitized annually. Now imagine all that information being lost to future generations because of the lack of compatible software and hardware. (Remember the VHS?) Ours could become a lost generation, warned Google’s “chief Internet evangelist” Vint Cerf, also known as "father of the Internet." 

    “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,” Cerf was quoted in The Guardian as saying during a presentation at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in mid-February.

    One solution could be the development of what Cerf called “digital vellum.” According to the abstract for Cerf’s presentation, as reported by Top Tech News, "Digital vellum" would provide "a system that is capable of preserving the meaning of the digital objects we create over periods of hundreds to thousands of years. This is not about preserving bits, it is about preserving meaning, much like the Rosetta Stone."

    Of course, this isn’t a new problem. Records and information management and IT professionals have been grappling with data migration challenges for many years, and scientists have been working on various possible solutions. The Guardian pointed out that researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh have been working on a solution that takes “digital snapshots” of computer hard drives while they run different software programs. The snapshots can then be uploaded to a computer that mimics the one on which the software ran.

    “Inventing new technology is only half the battle, though,” wrote Ian Sample, The Guardian’s science editor in San Jose, Calif. “More difficult still could be navigating the legal permissions to copy and store software before it dies. When IT companies go out of business, or stop supporting their products, they may sell the rights on, making it a nightmarish task to get approval.”

    Said Cerf: “To do this properly, the rights of preservation might need to be incorporated into our thinking about things like copyright and patents and licensing. We’re talking about preserving them for hundreds to thousands of years.”

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