Internet founder, Vinton Cerf, warns that digitized information may be heading into a black hole of knowledge. Mountains of material produced since the internet was created like videos, photos, blogs, etc., will be lost forever as the programs to open them become obsolete and impossible to use with new technologies.
Cerf, one of Google’s bosses, has said in the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, that humanity’s first stages in the digital world will be lost in the future; that in years to come people who want to look back and study the past, will be confronted with a forgotten century. The reason for this is simple: there will be an infinite amount of data in files that future computers and programs will not be able to run.
The Google vice-president also spoke about the concept of ”digital vellum,” which if developed, will serve to recover old files regardless of the time when they were created. The internet father said if people come to think about the amount of information they create every day, it becomes clear how much of their history will be lost.
Cerf reminded everybody about the need to ensure that all digital objects that are made today can still be represented in next centuries, in order to preserve todays peoples digital lives. His warning has emphasized the paradox at the core of todays digital era: music, mails, photos and thousands of documents get digitized to be preserved forever, yet the hardware and the programs needed to open them quickly become defunct.
The term black hole was the chosen one by internet founder, to warn the technological and scientific communities about what is going to happen to all the information created in recent years. He highlighted the need of taking more steps than just saving data, in order to keep information for the future generations. He even suggested that it is a good idea to print out photos rather than just keeping them in a digital format.
Cerf compared the situation future historians will encounter if they want to look back and understand the current era, to the work of author Doris Kearns Goodwin in her book Team of Rivals. She had to find real letters with conversations between the people involved in Abraham Lincoln’s historical moment, she had to search for the documents in libraries all over the US. Today those letters would be the information people around the world store in computers and other devices.
Despite Vinton Cerf warning about all information heading into a black hole, measures are being tried to avoid this from happening. A group of computer scientists are immersed in a project called OLIVE (Open Library of Images for Virtualised Execution) in which they take digital snapshots to record content, as well as the technical details of the computers that were able to run such content. These snapshots can then be uploaded to computers that will imitate the original program that could open the files.
By Vanessa Pouso
Photo by Charles Mok – Flickr License