The 21st century is destined to become an “information black hole” to future historians because no concerted effort has been made to store digital records in a format that could be read and understood in years to come, an internet expert has warned.
Software programs, computer operating systems and hardware are changing so fast that documents, pictures, spreadsheets, emails and other digital “objects” are becoming unreadable within a few years of being created, said Vint Cerf, chief internet “evangelist” at Google.
“In our zeal to get excited about digitising – we digitise photographs thinking it’s going to make them last longer – we might turn out to be wrong,” Dr Cerf told the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
“In 1,000 or 3,000 years in the future we have to ask ourselves how are we to preserve all the bits [binary digits] that we need in order to correctly interpret the digital objects that we create. If we don’t find a solution, our 21st century will become an information black hole, and future centuries will wonder about us.”
Dr Cerf said software experts will have to create some kind of “digital vellum” – named after the parchment made out of skin that has survived for centuries – which is capable of storing digital records in a readable format for centuries or even millennia.