Google executive and co-founder of the internet Vint Cerf says you need to start printing everything out.
“In our zeal to get excited about digitising, we digitise photographs thinking it’s going to make them last longer, and we might turn out to be wrong,” he said.
“I would say if there are photos you are really concerned about create a physical instance of them. Print them out.” Dr Cerf was speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in the Silicon Valley capital, San Jose, California.
To illustrate his point, he referred to an “amazing book” by American Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team Of Rivals: The Political Genius Of Abraham Lincoln.
Her material was obtained by scouring libraries for copies of written correspondence between Lincoln and the people around him. Dr Cerf said: “Let us imagine that there’s a 22nd-century Doris Kearns Goodwin and she decides to write about the beginning of the 21st century and seeks to reproduce the conversations of the time.
“She discovers that there’s an awful lot of digital content that either has evaporated because nobody saved it, or it’s around but it’s not interpretable because it was created by software that’s 100 years old.”
The problem also had serious implications for the storage of legal documents needed to be kept for long periods, he said. One possible solution was what he called “digital vellum”, a concept now being explored by computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
This involved taking a digital “snapshot” at the time an item is stored of all the processes needed to reproduce it at a later date, including the software and operating system.
The snapshot could then be used to reproduce the game, picture file or spread sheet, on a “modern” computer, perhaps centuries from now.