An interesting approach to digital preservation: storing digital video in the DNA of bacteria.
Steven Johnson dives deep into the METI project, starting with the Arecibo message and covering Lincos, the Drake equation, and the Fermi paradox.
He also wrote about what he left out of the article and mentions that he’s writing a book on long-term decision making.
In a sense, the METI debate runs parallel to other existential decisions that we will be confronting in the coming decades, as our technological and scientific powers increase. Should we create superintelligent machines that exceed our own intellectual capabilities by such a wide margin that we cease to understand how their intelligence works? Should we ‘‘cure’’ death, as many technologists are proposing? Like METI, these are potentially among the most momentous decisions human beings will ever make, and yet the number of people actively participating in those decisions — or even aware such decisions are being made — is minuscule.
A conference in my old stomping grounds of Freiburg on archives, preservation, and long-term thinking:
It will present the state of art in long-term archiving as well as the present problems in preservation of information and scientific data in archives and libraries. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is that, since all conceivable systems are finite but can be quite large, a choice on the contents has to be made. This requires thinking of the human condition: Who we are, what we are and what do we find worth to preserve.
Cancelling the future.
The future lives and dies by the state of the archives. To look hard at this world and honestly, diligently articulate what happened and what it was like in the present is a sort of promise to the future, a new layer to the palimpsest of history that can become someone else’s foundation.
The Long Now Foundation has been posting some great stuff on their blog lately. The latest is a look at orreries, clocks, and computers throughout history …and into the future.
An even thornier problem than the Clock of the Long Now.
A website dedicated to one of the most, um, interesting solutions to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage problem:
- Engineer cats that change colour in response to radiation.
- Create the culture/legend/history that if your cat changes colour, you should move some place else.
There are T-shirts!
An unfolding series of vignettes written by Danny Hillis back in 2010. It’s all very Borgesian.
If you’re in need of some long-term perspective right now—because, let’s face it, the short-term outlook is looking pretty damn bleak—then why not explore some of Max Roser’s data visualisations? Have a look at some of the global trends in inequality, disease, hunger, and conflict.
It’s still many years away from being a viable storage option, but here’s the latest on using DNA to back up our collective data.
Magnetic tape may survive a few decades, and DVDs even longer, but they are by no means immortal. Data stored in DNA, provided it’s kept cold and dry, could last for thousands of years.
Prompted by the way Craig is handling the shutdown of hi.co, Glenn Fleishman takes a look at other digital preservation efforts and talk to Laura Welcher at the Long Now Foundation.
A time capsule is bottled optimism. It makes material the belief that human beings will survive long enough to retrieve and decode artifacts of the distant past.
Now this is how you shut down a service:
- Maintain read-only URLs for at least ten years.
- Create physical copies etched in metal held by cultural institutions for ten thousand years.
- Allow users to export their data (of course).
Web projects often lack hard edges. They begin with clarity but end without. We want to close Hi.co with clarity. To properly bookend the website.
And nary a trace of “We are excited to announce…” or “Thank you for joining us on our incredible journey…”
(Such a shame that the actual shut-down notice is only on Ev’s blog, but hopefully Craig will write something on his own site too.)
This is my kind of talk—John Snow’s cholera map, the Yucca Mountain think-tank, the Pioneer plaque, the Voyager record, the Drake equation, the Arecibo signal, and the love song of J. Alfred Prufrock.
♫ These are a few of my fav-our-ite things! ♫
Even more intriguing than their vast distribution across three continents is their time depth. Acheulean hand axes have been found at sites spanning 1.5 million years of human existence, dating from roughly 1.6 million years ago to about 100,000 years ago. That makes the Acheulean ax the most sustainable technology that members of our genus (Homo) ever developed. Consider, in contrast, the amount of technological change that has occurred in just the last 150 years (since the first telephone call), one ten-thousandth the amount of time the Acheulean hand ax was made and used. Or consider the amount of technological change in just the last 10 years (since the first iPhone was introduced), one one-hundred-fifty-thousandth the amount of time that Acheulean hand axes were made and used. In the memorable words of my former professor Arthur J. Jelinek, hand axes represent “mind-numbing technological stability.”
360 terabytes of data stored for over 13 billion years:
Coined as the ‘Superman memory crystal’, as the glass memory has been compared to the “memory crystals” used in the Superman films, the data is recorded via self-assembled nanostructures created in fused quartz. The information encoding is realised in five dimensions: the size and orientation in addition to the three dimensional position of these nanostructures.
A note of optimism for digital preservation:
Where a lack of action may have been more of the case in the 01990s, it is certainly less so today. In the early days, there were just a handful of pioneers talking about and working on digital preservation, but today there are hundreds of tremendously intelligent and skilled people focused on preserving access to the yottabytes of digital cultural heritage and science data we have and will create.
A new presentation from the wonderfully curmudgeonly Steven Pemberton, the Nosferatu of the web. Ignore the clickbaity title.
This part really, really resonated with me:
The web is the way now that we distribute information. We will need the web pages we create now to be readable in 100 years time, just as we can still read 100-year-old books.
A short feature on the 10,000 year clock.
Kelli Anderson’s thesis on the Human Interference Task Force project set up to mark nuclear waste sites for future generations (a project I’ve referenced in some of my talks).
This infographic offers a visual way to explore the various stages of the Earth’s history using a 12 hour clock analogy.