Google vice president Vint Cerf has warned the last 25 years of digitised material – from photos, emails, tweets and video – could be lost forever because the programs needed to view them will disappear.
Cerf’s comments mirror many Australian photographers and creatives who believe their work may be lost forever as programs needed to view them become superseded.
Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science that concluded in San Jose, US, over the weekend Cerf argued that mankind’s first foray into all things digital over the past couple of decades could well be lost to the historians of the future as ageing computer files become junk.
Cerf called for measures to preserve old software and hardware so out-of-date files could be recovered no matter when they were created.
“If we’re thinking 1000 years, 3000 years ahead in the future, we have to ask ourselves how do we preserve all the bits that we need in order to correctly interpret the digital objects we create,” Cerf told delegates.
“We are nonchalantly throwing all of our data into what could become an information black hole without realising it,” he said.
“When you think about the quantity of documentation from our daily lives that is captured in digital form, like our interactions by email, people’s tweets, and all of the world wide web, it’s clear that we stand to lose an awful lot of our history,” Cerf later told UK newspaper The Guardian.
“We don’t want our digital lives to fade away. If we want to preserve them, we need to make sure that the digital objects we create today can still be rendered far into the future,” he added.
Cerf agreed that inventing the technology to save and read existing data arguably won’t be the problem, rather it could be the legal minefield that will accompany it. Getting the legal rights to copy and store software that becomes defunct; or when IT providers fold, stop supporting programs or sell the rights on could prove a fruitless legal maze.
“To do this properly, the rights of preservation might need to be incorporated into our thinking about things like copyright and patents and licensing. We’re talking about preserving them for hundreds to thousands of years,” said Cerf.