Will There Be A Digital Dark Age?

Vint Cerf has been talking lately about how future historians looking to study the 21st century will find an "information black hole" because the programs needed to view our digital files will soon become be obsolete. He argues that the world needs "digital vellum" – some way to preserve digital information over a long period of time so that in the future, our files will be readable. Vellum (from the Latin "vitulinum" meaning "made from calf") is the hgh quality parchment made from calf skin, that was was used to produce single pages, scrolls, codices or books that were meant to last over the years.

"The emails, the tweets, and all the other things that we take for granted today may have evaporated into thin air because nobody preserved them," says Cerf.

Here is an except from a recent interview with him.

"Vint Cerf, a “father of the internet”, [and currently Vice president and Chief Internet Evangelist for Google] says he is worried that all the images and documents we have been saving on computers will eventually be lost. 

He believes this could occur as hardware and software become obsolete. He fears that future generations will have little or no record of the 21st Century as we enter what he describes as a “digital Dark Age”. 

Mr. Cerf made his comments at a large science conference in San Jose. He arrived at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science stylishly dressed in a three-piece suit. This iconic figure, who helped define how data packets move around the net, is possibly the only Google employee who wears a tie. 

I felt obliged to thank him for the internet, and he bowed graciously. “One is glad to be of service,” he said humbly.

His focus now is to resolve a new problem that threatens to eradicate our history. Our life, our memories, our most cherished family photographs increasingly exist as bits of information - on our hard drives or in “the cloud”. But as technology moves on, they risk being lost in the wake of an accelerating digital revolution."

-- Interviewed by Pallab Ghosh Science correspondent, BBC News, San Jose via http://www.bbc.com/news/

In a talk this month, Cerf discussed his ideas about  "Digital Vellum and the Expansion of the Internet into the Solar System" and the challenge of "preserving meaning of digital objects over very long periods of time." 

"That such a capacity is needed is surely unarguable. We already have examples of the loss of digital content, not because the bits are unreadable but because they are uninterpretable. The Internet, itself, continues to evolve and is already going off the planet, albeit on the back of a new set of protocols designed to deal with the delay and disruption encountered in deep space environments. Connectivity is not continuous and delays brought about by the inadequate speed of light are inescapable. We will discuss the current state and future aspirations of this work."



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