Storing Our Data for the Future

Buried in the mountains of Switzerland, an underground fortress known as the Swiss Fort Knox has been created to house a massive collection of digital data.  The idea behind this project is to preserve the data, as well as the tools used to view the data, for future generations so that they will be able to look back and research our world as it exists right now.

In the future, DVD’s will be laughed at, our current hard drive capacities will be seen as embarrassingly minuscule, and the tools used to view our data will be so outdated that futuristic interfaces will be far too advanced to view whatever data is discovered.  So scientists are thinking ahead.

“Einstein’s notebooks you can take down off the shelf and read them today. Roll forward 50 years and most of Stephen Hawking’s notes will likely only be stored digitally and we might not be able to access them all,” said the British Library’s Adam Farquhar.  It’s true, paper is going away and the digital age is taking over very quickly.  With every new digital breakthrough, there is another succession, another data format change, and another device to interpret and deliver the new forms of data.  This project serves as a way to salvage, catalog, and store the important data that floats through our worldwide culture so that future generations know more about us than the leftover rusty remains of old cars that were mysteriously fueled with liquefied dinosaur goop.

Unlike Egyptian stones that can still be seen and touched today, digital monoliths are fickle, with a shelf-life of only years.  Without creating an adequate preservation program, untold amounts of data could be lost that will never be able to be retrieved again.  Data like medical research and technological studies that had never been implemented could be very useful in the future.

When I first read this article, I understood that the ever-changing technological world has created short-lived devices that are replaced within months, but I didn’t think that we were really at risk of losing anything.  Then I put things in perspective and wondered what it would be like if in the 1980s a vast amount of data was stored on VHS tapes, and that I had no clue where I could find a working VCR.  More than that, in the next couple years, I doubt a TV would have the back-dated ports needed to even hook a VCR up. 

Then I understood this project entirely.

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