Vint Cerf's 'Digital Dark Age' Vs. George Orwell's
Vint Cerf expressed his concern that a "digital Dark Age" could result from the widespread use of computer memory to store photographs and other important documents.
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."
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...
"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."
Science fiction writers have explored different views on this problem. In his 1984 novel Heretics of Dune, Frank Herbert gave us a peek into the House Records of the Bene Gesserit, an organization with archives that spanned thousands of years of human activity.
The holoprojector flickered with its continuing production above the table top - more bits and pieces that she had summoned.
Taraza rather distrusted Archivists, which she knew was an ambivalent attitude because she recognized the underlying necessity for data. But Chapter House Records could only be viewed as a jungle of of abbreviations, special notations, coded insertions, and footnotes. Such material often required a Mentat for translation or, what was worse in times of extreme fatigue demanded that she delve into Other Memories. ...You could never consult Archival Records in a straightforward manner.
(Read more about Herbert's Bene Gesserit House records)
George Orwell, on the other hand. described another aspect of the same problem, which is that technology (like the speakwrite and the memory hole) will make it increasingly easy to manipulate our stored memory of pictures and text, and thereby the events that they describe:
The largest section of the Records Department, far larger than the one on which Winston worked, consisted simply of persons whose duty it was to track down and collect all copies of books, newspapers, and other documents which had been superseded and were due for destruction. A number of ‘The Times’ which might, because of changes in political alignment, or mistaken prophecies uttered by Big Brother, have been rewritten a dozen times still stood on the files bearing its original date, and no other copy existed to contradict it. Books, also, were recalled and rewritten again and again, and were invariably reissued without any admission that any alteration had been made. Even the written instructions which Winston received, and which he invariably got rid of as soon as he had dealt with them, never stated or implied that an act of forgery was to be committed: always the reference was to slips, errors, misprints, or misquotations which it was necessary to put right in the interests of accuracy.
(Read about Orwell rewriting history)
So, do you think we're going to live in Cerf's "digital Dark Age", a "Google Golden Age" or maybe George Orwell's nightmare?
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