Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Another Vint Cerf Column

Vint Cerf has another column on the problem of digital preservation. He concludes:
These thoughts immediately raise the question of financial support for such work. In the past, there were patrons and the religious orders of the Catholic Church as well as the centers of Islamic science and learning that underwrote the cost of such preservation. It seems inescapable that our society will need to find its own formula for underwriting the cost of preserving knowledge in media that will have some permanence. That many of the digital objects to be preserved will require executable software for their rendering is also inescapable. Unless we face this challenge in a direct way, the truly impressive knowledge we have collectively produced in the past 100 years or so may simply evaporate with time.
Vint is right about the fundamental problem but wrong about how to solve it. He is right that the problem isn't not knowing how to make digital information persistent, it is not knowing how to pay to make digital information persistent. Yearning for quasi-immortal media makes the problem of paying for it worse not better, because quasi-immortal media such as DNA are both more expensive and their more expensive cost is front-loaded. Copyability is inherent in on-line information, that's how you know it is on-line. Work with this grain of the medium, don't fight it.

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