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Vint Cerf Warns of 'digital Dark Age'

By BBC News

February 13, 2015

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Former ACM president Vint Cerf, one of the pioneers of Internet technology and now a vice president and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google, worries about a forthcoming "digital Dark Age" in which the rapid pace of technological advancement will leave behind mountains of data people will no longer be able to access.

"Old formats of documents that we've created or presentations may not be readable by the latest version of the software because backwards compatibility is not always guaranteed," Cerf said at the recent annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Cerf's proposed solution to the problem is taking an "X-ray snapshot" of data, which includes not just the information but also descriptions of the application, operating system, and hardware it runs on. He says this digital snapshot would then be uploaded to the cloud where it could, in theory, live on in perpetuity.

Cerf says ensuring such data could be read by future generations will require a standardized description, which he calls "digital vellum." He notes such techniques already have been demonstrated by Carnegie Mellon University's Mahadev Satyanarayanan. Cerf says the technique is "not without its rough edges, but the major concept has been shown to work."

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