Apr 6, 2015

Digital vellum and other projects to preserve digital information

Submitted by Isabel Chadwick, revised by Inna Kouper

Vint Cerf , the co-designer of the Internet architecture and Google's Vice president and Chief Internet Evangelist spoke at the 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in San Jose, CA and warned the audience that we are faced with a forgotten generation or even a forgotten century because we don't have a regime that preserves digital information in a rational and systematic manner. Many computer files of various nature, including correspondence, entertainment, education, jobs and so on, are at risk of becoming unreadable.

He proposed a digital vellum, a system capable of preserving the meaning of the digital objects over hundreds to thousands of years. Thinking about access to documents hundreds of years later is challenging, especially when every new technology has a risk of being incompatible with the old ones. Atari game cartridges, floppy disks, zip drives, and many other older technologies are now hard or impossible to access. One of the efforts to preserve software, games, and other executable content is Olive Executable Archive, which creates virtual machines that simulate executable environments. Unfortunately, as the project website says, “for legal reasons, the VMs are currently accessible only to our research collaborators.”

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