Would you like an eternal record of your teenage social media posts to be methodically stored and made accessible to all, forever? No, we wouldn’t either. And it could be argued that if a film hasn’t made the cut in the transition from VHS to DVD, it probably wasn’t worth holding onto anyway. In the words of Idina Menzel, let it go.
But how would you feel if your cherished family photographs and childhood memories were misplaced, never to be seen by your grandchildren? Or if records of your educational or professional achievements were lost for good on outdated hard drives and operating systems?
At the February 2015 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Google’s vice president Vint Cerf voiced his concerns for the future of our digital and online content – meticulously saved as it might be on hard drives or cloud servers for the time being. Vint Serf is lauded as a co-designer of the internet’s basic structure, and as well as being Google’s vice president is known as an ‘internet evangelist’.
His solution is to preserve a record of every kind of technology or operating system, preventing old hardware and software from eventually becoming entirely obsolete and inaccessible. He proposes that the preservation of the data itself should be in a digital form and can be stored in cloud servers, but in a format that can be easily transferred – rendering memories of the 21st century effortlessly available to future generations.
“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…that digital snapshot will recreate the past in the future,” he said.
If we consider that even Google might be extinct in the year 3000, the standardisation of such blueprints and the safeguarding of the companies providing the service would be crucial to the success of the concept. The scheme has been referred to as ‘digital vellum’ in a nod to the project’s quest for resilience and built-in preservation.
‘Digital vellum’ was recently demonstrated at the Carnegie Mellon University in collaboration with IBM research under the acronym Olive (Open Library of Images for Virtualised Execution), reported the Financial Times this month. In conjunction with this, an initiative to make it easier to find and track content on the internet could involve technology called Information-Centric Networking or ICN, in which all information is addressed and routed by its content rather than, as today, by its location. The flipside of this is that it will be even more difficult to delete or destroy sensitive information.
No escape from the ramifications of a misjudged tweet or an embarrassing photograph, then.