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Cerf Sees a Problem: Today's Digital Data Could Be Gone Tomorrow

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Images of several obsolete technologies.

ACM president Vint Cerf fears information stored on technologies that become obsolete may be lost over time.

Credit: UIUC Communication, Technology & Society

Google chief Internet evangelist and ACM president Vint Cerf is worried that much of the data generated since the Internet's beginning, as well as future data, will become irretrievable over time.

"Backward compatibility is very hard to preserve over very long periods of time," he notes. Cerf says the meaning of data objects survives only as long as the application software that can interpret them is available. "We won't lose the disk, but we may lose the ability to understand the disk," he says.

Cerf also points out that the scientific community gleans large volumes of data from simulations and instrument readings, which may be lost unless the underlying metadata is preserved.

He calls for the creation of a "digital vellum," a durable way for preserving digital content, as well as the ways for interpreting it, over prolonged periods.

"It may be that the cloud computing environment will help a lot," Cerf says. "It may be able to emulate older hardware on which we can run operating systems and applications."

From Computerworld
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