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Random thoughts by Frank Didik on science, business and society today

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Preserving our digital history and records

Old Computer Formats and the longevity of our digitally stored knowledge. Are we entering into a "pre-history" era? How can we preserve our computer written records, books, photographs, video and knowledge? We must have an international agreement and an organization, perhaps under auspices of the United Nations, dedicated to preserving our global digital records so that future generations can access the information and knowledge that we store on computer readable formats.

If you wanted to, would you be able to read a:

              3 1/2", 5 1/4" or 8" floppy disk?
              12" optical disk?
              9 track tape?
              IBM punch card?
              Paper punch tape?

If you can not read these one or two generation old formats today, how will society be able to read these documents in 200 years from now? In a few years, our latest computer formats and storage devices, such as USB drives, will also be obsolete. I have deep concerns about the longevity of our knowledge and of computer records, documents, photographs, videos and all records that are presently stored on computer medium of one type or the other. Further, the formats are changing constantly. Will society be able to access our computerized records in the future? Almost all of our human knowledge is stored today on non-permanent computer storage technology. Printed books, newspapers, and documents, using the proper paper, can last for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Printed photographs, motion picture film, photographic negatives can also last for a very long period of time, under the right conditions. Today however, we are faced with a new type of problem. First, digital recorded documents, photographs and video's on computer hard drives, computer chips, CD's and DVD's are very vulnerable to technical failure, where most or all of the data contained on the recorded medium could potentially be lost. Further, computer formats change at an astounding rate. How many people today can read a 3 1/4" or a 5 1/2" floppy disk? What about the earlier hard sectored disks or even earlier drum drives, tape drives and core memory? All of this has changed in just 40 short years. There is little doubt in my mind that in a few years, the most advanced storage drives, USB's and so on will be completely obsolete and unreadable. Further, the formats, such as JPG, or MP3 or PDF or DOC will for sure change over time and may well not be readable in the future. How much of the enormous data that is stored will be transferred to the new formats as they emerge and how much information will be lost forever? In the event of wars, natural disasters, or periods of social decline, will the records survive and be readable over time? This is potentially a critical problem for our historic record as well as for future advancement that must be addressed in some fashion. ---Frank X. Didik first written pre 1995, updated 2015


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DIDIK® is a registered Trademark at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

This page is from November 12, 2015, though is based on thoughts by Frank Didik dating back many years.