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Thread: Digital 'Dark Ages' Looms

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    Global Moderator Defense Professional JAD_333's Avatar
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    Digital 'Dark Ages' Looms

    Will records stored digitally be accessible to future historians? It's an intriguing question. The problem has different aspects. But probably the most troubling one has to do with digital records created by outmoded programs on outmoded mediums and accessible only by outmoded equipment. The 6-inch floppy gave way to the 3-inch "floppy' which gave way to CDs, DVDs, memory sticks and high capacity hard drives. The technology to work in these mediums will need to be maintained to insure access to future historians. Otherwise, as a founder of the net warns, we face the prospect of a digital dark age. What will happen to all the WAB posts when the servers shut down?

    BBC News - Google's Vint Cerf warns of 'digital Dark Age'

    Google's Vint Cerf warns of 'digital Dark Age'
    By Pallab Ghosh Science correspondent, BBC News, San Jose

    Vint Cerf, a "father of the internet", says he is worried that all the images and documents we have been saving on computers will eventually be lost.

    Currently a Google vice-president, 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.


    “Start Quote

    Even if we accumulate vast archives of digital content, we may not actually know what it is”

    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.

    "I worry a great deal about that," Mr Cerf told me. "You and I are experiencing things like this. Old formats of documents that we've created or presentations may not be readable by the latest version of the software because backwards compatibility is not always guaranteed.

    "And so what can happen over time is that even if we accumulate vast archives of digital content, we may not actually know what it is."
    'Digital vellum'

    Vint Cerf is promoting an idea to preserve every piece of software and hardware so that it never becomes obsolete - just like what happens in a museum - but in digital form, in servers in the cloud.

    If his idea works, the memories we hold so dear could be accessible for generations to come.

    "The solution is to take an X-ray snapshot of the content and the application and the operating system together, with a description of the machine that it runs on, and preserve that for long periods of time. And that digital snapshot will recreate the past in the future."
    Computers

    A company would have to provide the service, and I suggested to Mr Cerf that few companies have lasted for hundreds of years. So how could we guarantee that both our personal memories and all human history would be safeguarded in the long run?

    Even Google might not be around in the next millennium, I said.

    "Plainly not," Vint Cerf laughed. "But I think it is amusing to imagine that it is the year 3000 and you've done a Google search. The X-ray snapshot we are trying to capture should be transportable from one place to another. So, I should be able to move it from the Google cloud to some other cloud, or move it into a machine I have.

    "The key here is when you move those bits from one place to another, that you still know how to unpack them to correctly interpret the different parts. That is all achievable if we standardise the descriptions.

    "And that's the key issue here - how do I ensure in the distant future that the standards are still known, and I can still interpret this carefully constructed X-ray snapshot?"

    The concept of what Mr Cerf refers to as "digital vellum" has been demonstrated by Mahadev Satyanarayanan at Carnegie Mellon University.

    "It's not without its rough edges but the major concept has been shown to work," Mr Cerf said.
    To be Truly ignorant, Man requires an Education - Plato

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    Official Thread Jacker Senior Contributor gunnut's Avatar
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    We should hire a scribe to write down our posts. And he's only allowed a candle and a quill pen.
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    Quote Originally Posted by gunnut View Post
    We should hire a scribe to write down our posts. And he's only allowed a candle and a quill pen.
    And he should use only papyrus.
    Far better it is to dare mighty things, than to take rank with those poor, timid spirits who know neither victory nor defeat ~ Theodore Roosevelt

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    Dirty Kiwi Senior Contributor
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    Nah, stone. It lasts longer
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    Global Moderator Defense Professional JAD_333's Avatar
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    Bring back the bard.
    To be Truly ignorant, Man requires an Education - Plato

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    pffft, vellum, its portable and long lasting and a by product of hamburger err cows.

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    Turbanator Senior Contributor Double Edge's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JAD_333 View Post
    But probably the most troubling one has to do with digital records created by outmoded programs on outmoded mediums and accessible only by outmoded equipment.
    aka proprietary data formats. everything has to be gradually moved to standardised formats. otherwise forget it.

    The problem is new formats are usually set by vendors and they innovate by adding new features. After said format gains traction then those formats become standards. vendors at this point (not always) usually release the specs for free and allows the standard to become immortal. so newer products use these standards or are capable of reading them. the ones that don't become popular need to be migrated to something that is.

    Quote Originally Posted by JAD_333 View Post
    The 6-inch floppy gave way to the 3-inch "floppy' which gave way to CDs, DVDs, memory sticks and high capacity hard drives. The technology to work in these mediums will need to be maintained to insure access to future historians. Otherwise, as a founder of the net warns, we face the prospect of a digital dark age. What will happen to all the WAB posts when the servers shut down?
    Just backup onto newer bigger and cheaper. You must have old files which you copied over time and can still access.

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    For the things that are of actual worth to keep archives are increasingly including digital storage today. If you want to look up historical information you're already using digitalizations anyway, not the originals that are in a climate-controlled bunker somewhere (at least that's where my employers keep e.g. their 500-year-old original of Columbus' travel report).

    As for snapshotting virtual servers as proposed? That's just another of Google's hypes. It's too costly. Way too costly. And digital storage is way too easily compromised for serious archiving. Any decent archive will, when digitalizing old stocks, back them up to a physical carrier medium that's not as easy to destroy as to drop a magnet on them*. The current method used by archives in Germany for images is using a laser engraving system saving them in analogue form on microfiche-type media that can be read back in decades or centuries without depending on such a flimsy thing as file formats.

    * Personally, i see it as rather problematic that after the planned next move of my city's municipal archive it won't be protected against nuclear attacks any more, only explosions up to a few kilotons (which do happen every couple decades).
    Last edited by kato; 24 Feb 15, at 20:59.

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    Turbanator Senior Contributor Double Edge's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kato View Post
    The current method used by archives in Germany for images is using a laser engraving system saving them in analogue form on microfiche-type media that can be read back in decades or centuries without depending on such a flimsy thing as file formats.
    Works for monochrome images and text.

    What about video or colour images ?

    What about information that was never created in paper form but electronic ?

    You're not getting away from formats, you will have to convert to open standards somehow.

    Maybe xml which is a self describing format.

    This leaves the question of which medium to go with. magnetic is temporary. maybe optical of some sort but it will have to be with very good films even those have a certain lifetime. Which means you are copying to the next best on a periodical basis.
    Last edited by Double Edge; 24 Feb 15, at 22:25.

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    Regular Vargas's Avatar
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    I think the real problem is to be able to look at the sea of garbage people produce today and find what is relevant and what is not.
    Not only pet issues, gossips and other stuff, but everyone stay inside their little group with confirmation biased and others, believing in their own "truth" and not putting anything to test.

    It reminds me a lot of a dialogue in the game Metal Gear Solid 2. What is more remarkable about that game is that Facebook for example didn't even existed when it was created,
    So since them, things have only gotten worse.

    In relation to relevant data, I suppose this "cloud" stuff is very dangerous, everything of real importance should be kept in a hard data somewhere, maybe even in written form somewhere.

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    Dirty Kiwi Senior Contributor
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    The other thing to remember is that we have always lost information. Zogs brilliant dialogues with Zag over the proto-Sumer campfires are lost to us forever. Only things that remain relevant to use and remain in our collective meat brains are retained, the rest is discarded. If we need to know it in the future we'll rediscover it.
    In the realm of spirit, seek clarity; in the material world, seek utility

    Gottfried Leibniz

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    Defense ProfessionalSenior Contributor tbm3fan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vargas View Post
    I think the real problem is to be able to look at the sea of garbage people produce today and find what is relevant and what is not.
    Not only pet issues, gossips and other stuff, but everyone stay inside their little group with confirmation biased and others, believing in their own "truth" and not putting anything to test.
    Am I reading you right here. Sounds as though you would be referring to what is important to society which is what we had books and libraries for. So are you discounting what the average person creates in their daily life? Would that be the photo of their six year old playing with their dog on their hard drive?

    I can go right over to my closet and pull out a large file containing pictures, clippings, birth certificates and other assorted paper work going back to 1890 of my family. I have every negative I have ever shot since 1959. On the other hand between say 2000 (digital cameras very consumer oriented) to 2015, I have gone through four different computers. Hard drives removed, copied, destroyed and their are still photos I cannot find from the early part of the century. However, I can find my film photos ( I shot both ways back then) without a problem. There is not a single shot of me with my son that is on a negative. I wonder what he will look back on 50 years from now in order to see his long past father? He will be able to look at a photo of his great, great grandfather though. Actually writing this is going to make me definitely pull out my film cameras to shoot pictures for archival purposes. No brainer since I have around 300 cameras and 500 rolls of film in a freezer. The insidious problem with digital is that it is so damn easy to shoot and requires no prep other than a fully charged battery.

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    Regular Vargas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Parihaka View Post
    The other thing to remember is that we have always lost information. Zogs brilliant dialogues with Zag over the proto-Sumer campfires are lost to us forever. Only things that remain relevant to use and remain in our collective meat brains are retained, the rest is discarded. If we need to know it in the future we'll rediscover it.
    That is the original meaning of "meme" as theorized by Richard Dawkings' The Selfish Gene.

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    Regular Vargas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tbm3fan View Post
    Am I reading you right here. Sounds as though you would be referring to what is important to society which is what we had books and libraries for. So are you discounting what the average person creates in their daily life? Would that be the photo of their six year old playing with their dog on their hard drive?

    I can go right over to my closet and pull out a large file containing pictures, clippings, birth certificates and other assorted paper work going back to 1890 of my family. I have every negative I have ever shot since 1959. On the other hand between say 2000 (digital cameras very consumer oriented) to 2015, I have gone through four different computers. Hard drives removed, copied, destroyed and their are still photos I cannot find from the early part of the century. However, I can find my film photos ( I shot both ways back then) without a problem. There is not a single shot of me with my son that is on a negative. I wonder what he will look back on 50 years from now in order to see his long past father? He will be able to look at a photo of his great, great grandfather though. Actually writing this is going to make me definitely pull out my film cameras to shoot pictures for archival purposes. No brainer since I have around 300 cameras and 500 rolls of film in a freezer. The insidious problem with digital is that it is so damn easy to shoot and requires no prep other than a fully charged battery.
    Exactly. That is a lot of things that not only is not worth preserving, but is also a shame that it is not being preserved. Imagine for example the 17 year old girls now with their duck face pictures on Facebook or their virtual diaries sharing a lot of things about their personal lives today that will never fade, being always accessible. Or even worse, this new mothers that made blogs or Facebook for their babies including embarrassing pictures that will shame them - the babies - later in life.
    Things don't even need to be that personal... Just look at all the keytrends that appear in the talk shows on the radio or on your news feed on Facebook. What is the color of the dress, Jeb Bush identified as Hispanic in a document, the countless "gender issues" on progressive left radios like WYPR. This garbage only prevents the evolution of our species. Seriously, some co-workers listen to WYPR everyday and I hear it for hours and there isn't a single day that there isn't at least some good two hours talking about how the "gays and lesbians" are being oppressed in the West and how we are not "sensitive enough" of the issue. Come on, there was an entire program about transgenders in the Army deployed at Iraq or Afghanistan... How big of an issue is that? Why waste so much time, energy and imagination in something that possible affected 4 or 5 people in an universe of all of those who are veterans of war?

    The key issues, that affect society or the world as a whole are put into a smokescreen of minor or even no issues at all that blind us of what is really important. And the fact that the digitized world gives more power to the individual to produce this garbage, this junk data in an unprecedented scale is dangerous and makes it even more difficult to scrutinize and decide what it is important and not. Of course, for the more intelligent people it is a blessing because you can go to the original sources every time, but for the majority of the population who uses internet only for games, gossip and pornography, I find it rather good that with time things disappear from the net.

    About the pictures... Oh boy... Same thing here. Tons of pictures about everything up until the beginning of the 2000s... Now, since I am not a very sociable person and there is no more incentive to have physical copies of stuff, I hardly have any pictures after that.

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    Regular Sanjac's Avatar
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    I'd be much more concerned that future historians will look back at the great mounds of digital data available from the early 21st century and realize that the task of separating out anything truthful, never mind anything significant, from the rubbish heap is far beyond any human ability.

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