Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Cerf sees a problem: Today's digital data could be gone tomorrow.

Cerf sees a problem: Today's digital data could be gone tomorrow. Patrick Thibodeau. Computerworld. June 4, 2013.
Vinton Cerf is concerned that much of the data that has been created in the past few decades and for years still to come, will be lost to time. Digital materials from today, such as spreadsheets, documents, presentations as well as mountains of scientific data, won't be readable in the years and centuries ahead. Software backward compatibility is very hard to preserve over very long periods of time, and the data objects are only meaningful if the software programs are available to interpret them. "The scientific community collects large amounts of data from simulations and instrument readings. But unless the metadata survives, which will tell under what conditions the data was collected, how the instruments were calibrated, and the correct interpretation of units, the information may be lost. If you don't preserve all the extra metadata, you won't know what the data means. So years from now, when you have a new theory, you won't be able to go back and look at the older data."

What is needed is a "digital vellum," a digital medium that is as durable and long-lasting as the material that has successfully preserved written content for more than 1,000 years. If a company goes out of business and there is no provision for its software to become accessible to others, all the products running that software may become inaccessible. The cloud computing environment may help; it may be able to emulate older hardware on which we can run operating systems and applications. We need to preserve the bits, but also the a way of interpreting them.

1 comment:

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