Publish Or Perish: Data Storage And Civilization

Who do you think of when you think of ancient civilizations? Romans? Greeks? Chinese? India? Egyptians?  What about the Scythians, the Muisca, Gana, or the Kerma? You might not recognize that second group as readily because they all didn’t have writing systems. The same goes, to a lesser extent, for the Etruscans, the Minoans, or the inhabitants of Easter Island where they wrote, but no one remembers how to read their writing. Even the Egyptians were mysterious until the discovery of the Rosetta stone. We imagine that an author writing in Etruscan didn’t think that no one would be able to read the writing in the future–they probably thought they were recording their thoughts for all eternity. Hubris? Maybe, but what about our documents that are increasingly stored as bits somewhere?

It was bad enough when you had punched cards and magnetic media. We are sure there are some tape formats that are no longer practical to read. Could you read a magnetic bubble cartridge? Would it even be viable after all these years? But the problem is even worse now. Where are your back copies of Hackaday? Where are your e-mails? “In the cloud” is a cliche, but appropriate. In 1,000 years there won’t be a Google server and whatever storage medium it is using today will likely be dust even if the people wanting to read it knew how.

Do you know the function of this? (Public domain; from the Walters Aret Museum)

And it gets worse. If you see a stone or a parchment with scribbles on it, you can deduce it is writing. What if you saw some strings with knots in them? The Incas used a system like that to record things. We still don’t know exactly how to read them. What will a future archeologist make of a flash card or a hard disk? They are as unlikely to use anything like it as we are to use a strigil — the Roman knife used to clean yourself. If you saw one of these with no context, you might assume it was a tool for carpentry, not a bathroom implement. Why would our future archeologists think that some little boxes might have writing inside of them if you knew how to read them?

Antique Media vs Modern Media

At least some of the oldest media have some chance of surviving. Punched cards and paper tape are probably about as robust as books. Like a stone tablet, too, it should be pretty obvious that they hold data and they are easy to decode, even by hand.

Magnetic things are less certain, though. Tape-based oxides aren’t going to last forever and the magnetic information on them is even more fragile. Optical media might last, but it is far from certain you’d realize there was data encoded. They might be mistaken for art. Tape has the same problem. It would be easy to imagine some future museum showing tape used for some unknown religious ritual involving sanctuaries with raised floors.

Modern media is likely to be flash based and that certainly won’t last forever. It is even harder to realize there might be something on them. Even now, I can see a half a dozen USB devices on my desk, half of which are not flash drives but don’t look very different.

Then there’s all the cloud data. Sure, it is really stored somewhere on a hard drive (magnetic media or flash). Presumably, if future archeologists found a buried data center, somewhere, they might unlock tons of data, but only if they realized what it was and how to read it.

Encoding Problems

Even today, it can be difficult to read a disk written on one system if you don’t have that system. It has gotten somewhat easier, in some common cases, because a few formats are near universal, but there are always outlier cases.

As a thought experiment, though, imagine you are a future archeologist studying 21st-century ruins. Your assistant brings you a little black rectangle the size of your thumbnail marked “32 GB, Class 10.” First, you need to realize it is a flash device. Then you’ll need to understand how to power it up and send it the right commands over the serial bus to pull the data off of it.

But the fun’s just starting. With the data, you’ll need to figure out the file system format. Then you get to dig into the different kinds of files, each of which will be a science project in of itself. PDF files? Images and video? Good luck. Imagine if the Egyptians used a different set of hieroglyphics for different purposes and then subjected them to data compression to minimize redundancy.

Real Life

We aren’t the only ones thinking about this. The University of Göttingen, for example, manages 5 petabytes of data in a “forever” archive collected over the last 40-some-odd years. They claim that the tapes they use have a 20-30 year lifespan, but the technology to manage them only lasts 10 years. So they are constantly moving data from one medium to the next, which takes about two years to complete. Of course, if they were to stop operating, you can assume in 300 or 400 years, there won’t be much chance of retrieving any of the data.

There is no shortage of services to store your data “forever” in the cloud, but it is hard to see how they can really assure that and what it would mean if it didn’t work. For example, Ardrive uses the “blockweave” to store data in a distributed way, but it is easy to imagine any number of ways this could be disrupted. As Adam Farquhar, head of digital preservation at the British Library has said, “If we’re not careful, we will know more about the beginning of the 20th century than the beginning of the 21st.”

Not that paper records are much better. Paper deteriorates. Languages are lost. The library at Alexandria famously burned. But stone seems to last. Ironically, we know a lot about Akhenaten — King Tut’s father — because the Egyptians tried to erase him from history by destroying his work. They reused the stones, often as a foundation for new construction and so we have found much of it well-preserved.

As we push to more exotic storage media, the problem just gets worse. We’ve read about storing data in glass (see the video below) and molecular storage at 80K using liquid nitrogen. None of this is going to be more obvious or more survivable than what we are using today. In fact, a lot of it will make the problem worse.

We can’t tell how serious they are, but the “Billion Year Archive” project did send a quartz disk with Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy in the glove box of Elon Musk’s space-traveling Tesla. They also apparently sent a library to the moon in 2019. However, these libraries use DNA storage which seems odd since we have trouble recovering old DNA today and also by etching tiny text into thin nickel films. Besides that, the probe it was hitching a ride with crashed, and the survival of the library is in question.

It is difficult, however, to visualize our post-apocalyptic archeologist wandering the moon and realizing the significance of some metal foil and a few crystals. That leads us to two interesting questions: First, how could you store obvious data for the distant future in such a way that it survives and is understandable? The question is sort of like the alien messages where it is difficult to figure out what another being could decode. Without that answer, we could become another mysterious “lost civilization” one day.

The second question is: what if this has happened before? It smacks of crackpot science, but what if some ancient artifact has information encoded on it and we don’t even recognize it? Of course, some of them we recognize, but we don’t know what to do about them like the Incan knots in the video below. Got an answer to either of these questions? Leave them in the comments.

[Banner image: “Egyptian Hieroglyphics” by Martie Swart

120 thoughts on “Publish Or Perish: Data Storage And Civilization

  1. This is one very niche reason for open source things. If a company had a proprietary way of storing information then relatively few people would know how to read it, while for an open source format there will probably be a database someone that has documents describing it in detail

    1. Essentially everything is proprietary from the perspective of deep time. We found the Rosetta stone being used as a piece of a brick wall in the back of an open-air market in Egypt. Imagine all the “source code” that we didn’t find in such a serendipitous manner. And that’s just a few thousand years ago.
      For communicating across greater ages, say 80,000 years (popularized as the time period required to recover from thermonuclear war; approx. 20 times longer than the period between the Egyptian middle kingdom and now) you’d need to engineer methods of communication kind of like a quine—something that inherently contained its own decryption codes, or generated them, and could be easily and almost universally understood. From the perspective of a culture as different from us as the people who lived in 78,000 BCE.
      For reference, that is slightly after the first recorded evidence of clothing or adornment on human beings (some seashell beads found in Morocco) and slightly before one of the greatest mass die-offs and population bottlenecks in hominid history (possibly the eruption of the Toba supervolcano).
      Then you’d have to carve it into rocks in geologically stable areas hundreds of thousands of times to make sure the record survived. For all our high technology, carving things into stone is still the king when it comes to long-term stability.

        1. I created a design to calm people waiting at the doctor’s office but I got worried when it took years for the government to licence it…. Yes I needed… Patient Patience Patent Patience… 😂

  2. Yes. I’d suggest that we dig up the flagstones outside the SupplyFrame headquarters at Pasadena. 61 S. Fair Oaks Ave Ste 200 and bury a Rosetta stone of some kind. Do this every year until the upcoming Apocalypse.

    1. Stay reluctant man. Have you seen the people out there? Talk about food poisoning!

      Your Rosetta stone idea is a good start. How do we ensure the drives themselves last though?

      1. It’s not really about the the drives – some/most of them may fail but the few that survive need the stone. Personally, I’d make the ‘stone’ out of stainless steel with the instruction set deeply engraved on the surfaces. I’m actually more worried what Supplyframe will think having random people come along and dig up their flagstones.

        1. This!

          I’ve been working to figure out a way to have 20 or so stainless steel sheets engraved with my history – with a few pictures. My plan is to encase these sheets in some type of dry- sealed – durable enclosure (about 1/2 meter cube). (Still working on alloys and materials). Plan to use the last spot in the family cemetery, maybe with some type of layered durable marker above. (Will need to watch a few more Star Trek OS episode for ideas :-) )

  3. The question is… What data ‘really’ needs to be available hundreds if not thousands of years from now. Really? Who is going to care (other than a history buff)? Right now we have books and computers (storage devices) to store information…. Useful to us ‘now’. The ‘important’ (what qualifies??) is spinning and available and will continue to do so for our foreseeable future. Storage media will continue to evolve going forward and data will continue to get rewritten… Thing is if humanity gets kicked back to the stone age (so to speak) it just won’t matter… the knowledge wheel would have to start all over again anyway.

    1. Science documents will be important. You don’t want to permanently redo everything and restart research from scratch. Also history is important for science as well, as literature and culture in general.

      We want to preserve culture, and the media we have wont last forever.

      1. Imagine if people in 10,000 BCE derived a method to preserve their culture and framework of philosophy and material perception of reality and extend it into our day. How do you think people today would feel about it? I think it’s nearly impossible to conceptualize.

        1. Any lost old civilization would have left behind ceramics that would survive. Even super ancient civilized dinosaurs would have had toilets (reptiles are even more susceptible to their own poo bacteria).

          If Atlantis existed in doggerland their ‘legendary technology’ was bronze.

          1. And our crappers etc.

            Periodic table coffee mugs might be a universal Rosetta stone. How they start translating ‘world’s greatest dad’.

            IIRC Asimov had a story about similar.

            One of the stupider things in the book ‘Battlefield Earth’ was Psyclos had a different periodic table. Hubbard was not a smart man. I was a stubborn kid, finished that book (thinking ‘it had to get better’). Nobody believes me, but the movie is _much_ better. Still awful.

      2. @None said: “You don’t want to permanently redo everything and restart research from scratch.”

        These days you do want to permanently redo everything. The second time around hopefully the research will be based in science, not politics.

      3. There was a science fiction novel, Hegira (Greg Bear, 1979) about a “preserve” of humans that had a giant obelisk inscribed with all of human history, including science, from simplest at the bottom to most advanced at the top. Fun read!

    2. Correct. People who are barely able to survive in some Stone Age environment care nothing about, say, classical music notation or skyscraper building methods. Only once some form of advanced society is formed ( where some people have free time) can someone even begin to try to uncover the secrets of some old undecipherable riddles.

      1. Famously, anthropologists had to come up with the notion of “leisure societies” to describe societies with lots of free time. Most ancient societies are expected to have been leisure societies, which is logical: a low population number combined with a high food density yields a surplus of food and thus a surfeit of free time. And it is also logical, because the early civilisations needed a long time to experiment to find useful techniques.

        Should we experience a societal collapse that yeets us back into the stone age, then the most troubling thing might be the lack of biodiversity and therefore a lack of food, as well as an oversized population.

  4. The local news channel is celebrating its 70th anniversary of going on the air. As part of the celebration, they pulled some old 16mm film from the archives. A lot of if they could figure out what was going on at the time, but for some of the footage there was no context to its importance or why certain things were filmed to begin with.

    Personally, I was surprised at the quality of the recovered footage.

    1. Sounds similar to when CERN discovered their archive of photos dating back to before CERN were even founded. And to be fair, it were a few hundred thousand images without any associated metadata, sometimes even lacking information of when the image were taken.

      Used to be featured here on HaD, but I guess they eventually managed to chew through it all….

      But yes, archives are full of tons of stuff few to non have a clue what it is actually about. And this is generally due to lacking other data that were lost to the sands of time and why archiving even more stuff is considered important.

  5. There’s so much in so many different changing media that I think the only reasonable answer would be physical ilustrated books describing how the media works. That would leave out translation, but it can be somewhat overcome thanks to math and physics.
    At least it would be reasonable cheap, reasonably small, somewhat durable and easy to copy. And it saves you part of the problem of guessing what’s important.

    1. Yeah. The likelihood that any particular culture believing it needs to communicate with humanity 100,000 years hence is simply hubris is close to 1. We could call it the Ozymandias project. We would be talking to either apes or angels, and neither would be very interested in what we have to say.

      1. You want to overprovision instead of underprovision. When the library of Alexandria burned a lot of important knowledge was lost. Equally, in the middle ages a lot of information that was known in the roman empire was lost as well, and had to be rediscovered, for example canalization and other sanitary practices.

        People would have liked to access this information and would have benefitted from it. Also we are still interested in information about egyptians and even people from the stone age.

        Getting insights into cultures that are very foreign to us now is helpful to gain perspective and get new ideas.

        This short time frame thinking seems very american to me. History is incredibly useful. The now is not always the most advanced. And even things far away are useful.

        That’s assuming people are smart enough to care, and curious. And in general, enough of them are, even if it could be better.

        Even “angels” might be interested. It’s not about superiority or being unique, or just better, or progress. Culture in general is interesting and enlightening. Think of it as looking back at times when you were different (or humanity was), and having a hard time imagining that experience now.

        There is a reason people take pictures of their childs or take pictures to remember their life when they were younger. It gives a richer fuller picture of the life experience in general.

        We are more than science and technology optimizing machines, or “progress”.

          1. Roman ‘crete didn’t flow. It’s more like modern roller compacted ‘crete then what most people think about when they say ‘concrete’.

            Concrete is ‘made to a price’. Crete used in German autobahn is just better than American highway crete. Because Germans. You could say it’s a perpetual payment racket in the USA.

            You can also say much German construction is made to NEVER be torn down (because Germans). They paid a large fortune just to cut windows into the Flak tower in Hamburg. I know where there is a literal five euro house in semi rural Germany, it’s totaled but the teardown cost means it will continue to sit there. Not that we don’t have the same in the USA, but those are in much worse neighborhoods.

            Too bad the Germans figured out how the ‘warranty timer’ on their cars. They used to be good.

    2. A database in a crater on the moon, accessible via both radio and laser, might be a start.

      A separate radio beacon of lower frequency may inform future generations about its existence.

      I mean, old Packet Radio was already used on MIR/ISS and various satellites, so it’s space savvy. For a low-speed/low-tech access of text information it’s good enough. The rest can be done with a laser or microwave link.

      Morse-Telegraphy can be used for the beacon, at least. To transmit information on how to access the data links.

  6. Seems to me the best way to really preserve data for the future in a durable and small way is the old spy micro dot type level of shrunk data etched into something like glass, maybe even diamond – anything that is rather durable really. It may not be readily apparent what it is, but at some point you have to assume this whole collection of “decorative ritual beads” will be studied seriously and somebody will look at it under magnification, maybe not enough to really have any hope of reading it at first, but at least enough to know there is something there!

    And because the data is effectively just pictures and very very compressed you can describe pictorially say how to create a working 4, 16, maybe even 64 bit processor, the memory for it etc in the greatest detail and a string that can be loaded onto it. That string being a basic OS that contains everything needed to then decodes the file systems and common document/audio/video files of our other storage mediums on the off chance some of that survives as well. So even with no comprehension of how we built the house of cards that is the modern world of data standards it may be possible.

    1. That’s why I mentioned stainless steel. But where do you put it where future beings will find it? No point in hiding it away in some deep cave in the middle of nowhere. It needs to be put in a carefully selected location where those beings might actually care to look for it.

      1. You don’t need to worry about that really – if they don’t have archeologist and curiosity to find it in whatever location you might reasonably put it, basically anywhere people are, then they clearly are not fit to have it…

        Plus many copies all over the place!

      2. The Scientologists have been inscribing all of L’s teachings on stainless steel discs, putting them in hard rock caves, and carving giant inscriptions on the ground above the cave to guide in future beings in orbit trying to find the information, that they think will last at least tens of thousands of years.
        Trementina Base is one of them, but they have a couple others.
        They’re weirdos but they have some ideas about data storage.

      3. I think diamond is better than stainless steel. In stainless steel, elements heavier than iron will eventually decay with (very long) time and the resulting iron/carbon structure may loose integrity or in the worst case, oxidase away. Quartz may also work, it is already oxidised, stable up to high temperatures, and would only be subject to cosmic radiation.

  7. The sheer volume of data is also an issue that precludes meaningful long term preservation (read: backup) of data. Copying exabytes of data onto the next storage medium is going to be orders of magnitude worse than transferring your old hard drives to the cloud.

    This was hinted at in the (fantastic) novel A Fire Upon the Deep. Post-singularity archaeologists could only examine data in it’s original form, because there was simply far too much of it to copy over.

    1. Ha. If you’re looking to preserve something for centuries, you might want a medium that still functions without a network of datacenters needing a constant supply of electricity plus a healthy consumer GPU market.

      1. Doesn’t need all that, just scales up with all that when financially incentivized. A blockchain could run on cortex M0s powered by solar/battery over a mesh network or even LoRa. The old FidoNet, BBSes synching by diallup modem overnight, run on 1980s tech, could support a form of blockchain.

  8. One advantage we do have over earlier civilisations is that some of our ways of recording data are baked in to various globally shared infrastructure on which we all rely. Hundreds of years from now people may learn english specifically to IETF RFCs and to keep crucial “nobody remembers quite what that is” infrastructure running or otherwise learn its workings well enough to replace it with updated equivalents. Simple open file formats are also very well baked in to culture, think how much communication relies on simple .txt .pdf and .jpg files, these formats would be very hard to move away from because compatibility to open old files might always be needed. For the physical media which holds these files, the rate of change is ofcourse much faster and compatibility with the past not expected.

  9. Long term data storage is an interesting challenge.

    Though, at least magnetic media lasts longer than flash media. Since the data retention in flash media is fairly lack luster. The floating gate structure is effectively just a very low leakage capacitor holding a bit of charge. It does escape over time. (I myself have noticed how a lot of flash drives seemingly either break or end up empty after 8-12 years on a shelf.)

    Magnetic media at least on paper should last a lot longer. But yes, HDDs do have mechanical failure as a likely thing. And tape media often lacks the long term support to actually realize its useful lifetime. (The march of technology isn’t always positive, here backwards compatibility would be nice if it were a bit longer in practice.)

    In regards to using something else, like lasering glass, or storing data in DNA.

    DNA storage is odd in my own opinion.
    Copying DNA isn’t really that fool proof, the error rate is quite high compared to other forms of data storage.
    Creating strands of DNA or reading them out is however not too crazily expensive. What used to be a major world wide project in the 90’s is now a “simple” test one can flog at people for the nominal fee of selling the gathered genetic data to the highest bidder.

    Then there is storing data in glass or other such material.
    Considering how DVD and blueray burners are a thing and they are fairly viable. Little stops a similar solution from using a more sturdy base material rather than plastic. Even just storing the data as microscopic marks on a surface is likely more than secure enough. Data should after all preferably be stored in more than just one physical location. And glass has proven itself fairly apt at holding up to the test of time if stored even in somewhat poor archival conditions.

  10. Photographic film – especially B&W film – film lasts a long, long, time if you leave it in a cool environment.

    It’s also always going to be relatively easy to build something to mechanically scan frames of film without worrying if you’ve got the right signal timing or voltage levels.

    The forgotten microfilm libraries of the world will probably peacefully slumber right through the day that the last piece of today’s magnetic media finally crumbles to dust.

    If you want to store digital info, you can assume good B&W film can resolve 50lines/mm with reasonable fidelity and a frame of standard 35mm movie film can hold about 1Mbit of digital data – about 125000 characters with reasonable error correction.

    That’s 2Mbytes per foot or 2Gbytes on a 1000′ roll. You can use the first 100 frames for Ikea-type pictograms explaining how the data is stored.

    OK, not exactly gigantic numbers, but still a pretty good chunk of data for format that can fit in a small pizza box.

    If I had to get a moderate amount of valuable data into the future (say, an entire countries worth of birth records that may be useful in 100 years) that is how I’d do it.

    1. Thank you for your comment, it was a good read.
      I think you’re right, the microfilm libraries are neat. I hope they will continue to exist, maybe expanded from time to time.
      I mean, there are so many nations on earth.. One or two of them may surely keep them intact.

      1. I calculated that the city walls of Nanjing hold around 16GB of data. It’s encoded in the form of the maker’s stamp (5-8 characters) imprinted onto each brick in the wall. There are a lot of bricks.

        You could refine the idea and mandate that all brick factories stamp a QR code or similar into each brick, carrying a packet of data. Bricks in a building can last an awfully long time (we are still digging up very well preserved Roman stuff)

        1. 90% of cuneiform tablets have never been looked at, much less translated.

          It’s not just preserving data, it’s making it readable to future intelligent evolved octopuses and worth their while. They’ll have car payments to make and new shiny to buy.

    2. This. I work with microfilm and microfiche nearly every day for company records. They imaged the records back in the 1970s and are honestly the most complete version when compared to what survived of the original paper copies. Modern formulation of microfilm is conservatively rated at 500 years but would likely last much longer. And all you need to view it is a magnifying system and light. An eye loop and holding it up to natural light is enough in a pinch.

    3. Reminds me of the Arthur C. Clarke story – aliens visit post apocalyptic Earth, find the only surviving relic, a film reel, and invent a projector to view it and find out what humans were like. It turns out to be a Mickey Mouse cartoon.

  11. That’s why we make badges! After the bits of YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have rotten away, Badge Life will be the only trace of 21st century culture to be rediscovered!

  12. To a question comes up: what of the insane amount of data today is worth saving?

    Imagine if Instagram data was the only thing left and future archeologists examined it : “The people in 2020s were vain. They spent all their time taking pictures of themselves. We theorize, that the stopped evolving and died out because of this…”

        1. We see it in Denmark: unemployed, uneducated people on welfare breed rapidly causing a rise in taxes and public spending. The educated working people don’t have as many children…

          Gonna be the end of us.. but hey, we had a good run, while it lasted…

          1. I’ve always thought it strange that totally inappropriate people are ‘allowed’ to breed. In the UK there’s more checks / rules for people wanting to keep a dog than for a naturally born child. It’s not necessarily unemployed and uneducated people. The same should apply to so called ‘respectable’ middle classes.

          2. RC: Suckling long pig is the best!

            England has particularly fucked up it’s welfare state. More money for more kids! Talk about perverse economic incentives!

            Even Germany has fallen over. Used to be they did a decent job of educating their ‘bottom of the barrel’. Not anymore, just like the USA now. (German teachers in extended family who speak bluntly). HS grads that can’t add/subtract/multiply/divide, so aren’t even useful apprentice bakers.

            Maybe Fentanyl will save us.

          3. HaHa: same here. Students can’t pass exams, so the standards are lowered. Don’t recall the statistics, but the number of children leaving school with no math/reading skills is rising.

    1. First thought. Tool for some game played with balls (like Jai-alai (sp?)) or something. Second thought ah nope it’s some bathroom related thing.
      Third thought: first thought wasn’t that far off after all.

  13. If the flash media survives for a given timespan, it is very likely that some of the current electronic devices will survive also. USB and SD cards are common enough that you need only one in a billion of devices to survive to be able to read most of the current wide used media formats.

    But in reality the odds of any flash storage surviving past 1000 years are pretty much zero. The charges leak out internally, erasing any stored data. Many devices won’t survive 100 years.

    Factory-pressed optical storage has a pretty good chance of surviving. Any technologically advanced civilization will at some point take a look with high magnification microscope and realize there is a logic to the pits. The CIRC encoding will take some effort to figure out, but it could potentially be bruteforced by automatically trying different decoding methods to minimize entropy in output.

    Of hacker-accessible mediums, printed circuit boards are pretty good. Put text as copper in middle layer of a 4-layer PCB and you have metal encased in plastic, likely to survive in dry conditions for thousands of years.

    1. That’s why in professional fields, tape (streamer) storage is still available. These tapes can store gigantic amounts of data, also. Hundreds of TBs, by now.

      Somehow, that’s ironic, I tbink.

      Because, in the 1980s/1990s, QIC streamers were used by both home users and office users.

      The cheap ones were the size of a cigarette box and read by a streamer connected to a dedicated high-speed floppy controller card (for ISA bus).

      The better ones were VHS sized and has streamers connected to SCSI.
      Storage capacity was 100MB to 250MB, I vaguely remember.
      In a time of 5,25″ floppies with 1,2MB capacity, that wasn’t too shabby.

      Backup programs, as included in Windows NT 4, or Windows 3.1 supported them.
      Central Point ‘s PC-Tools 7.x had a Windows backup program included, too, I think.
      For DOS, SyTOS was available.

      Looking backwards to these days, I’m a bit depressed.
      Back then, we had lasting stuff made of steel or glass, now it’s all plastic.

      Especially SD cards are made the cheapest possible way, with absolutely no consideration for longevity or sustainability.

      I mean, these fading flash cards are everywhere. Everywhere. They are in books, sold as music albums, sold as OS installation media, they’re installed in devices in soldered form as eMMC..

      They are ticking time bonbs.
      Their charge will go away in less than 20 years, no matter how well stored.
      For a society dependent somewhat on information, that’s just.. Insane. Why are we so greedy and short-sighted? Why can’t we produce quality technology anymore? 😢 Our mixer from the 1970s still goes strong, has gears made of metal. Why can’t we go back to this way of producing things?

      For comparison, my father’s 5,25″ 360KB floppy set of Leisure Suit Larry from 1987 is still readable, thanks to good storage. 😂

      1. Lasting stuff is still built today. What has really changed is so much that was previously exclusively high end has become mass market cheap, so the same functions are now wrapped up in cheap tat and lesser methods too – when the basic electronics inside are rare and expensive skimping out on the circuit or putting them in a cheaply made plastic/wood/’monkey metal’ box is stupid, you save a tiny amount on production but then have to sell something that seems like rubbish as a premium good, practically nobody will buy it over the rival that is built to the premium standards for not much more money.

        So I’m not sure if its right to be depressed or not – how many of us would never have got to hack/tinker/learn and play with electronics and computers if they had not? And if digital camera and storage hadn’t got cheap how many ThisOldTony and ColinFurze type characters would the rest of us never get to enjoy as they would remain a nutter in the shed with almost no budget known only to the long suffering and likely indifferent to their skills neigbour, family and friends. Yet I too find the volume of extremely cheap throwaway stuff troubling…

      2. Yea, I also have a working copy of Leisure Suit Larry (In the Land of the Lounge Lizards) on floppy, but I can’t play it anymore because I misplaced the book with the code answer to the anti-piracy questions.

  14. Ok. What can we learn from history: the most survivable info was stored on stone. Even if it was repurposed for something else. Metals are not a good carrier as repurposing leads to it being melten down: data lost.

    Also the location is also a factor. Dry locations work the best.

    I am also thinking that photographic emulsion on ceramics could be an option. And not all coded for computers, but just pictures, texts with as much redundancy as possible in different languages ( rosetta stone principle)

    And that is just the medium. What to put on them is even more difficult to define. You have to think about different scenarios: rebuilding science after a apocalypse, telling future intelligent beings about us, warnings about dangers wich still might be there ( looking at you, nuclear dusasters)

    Also. With our knowledge of the ancient Egyptians we also know that a lot was not documented in stone but on a more temporary medium and thus lost to us.
    We can be assured that none of our current digital media will be fysical usable in 300 years. (Ok maybe papertape or punchcards. But what is stored on that medium right now: sorce code, machine code and maybe some texts as these media were obsolete before we started putting data on it about our society or documenting science…)

    Also i have to think about the way to announce the info treasure to the intelligent beings around and i like the way shown in “2001 a space Odyssey”.

    Actually i have been thinking about this problem for a very long time, triggered by my obsession about apocalypses and deep time as exposed in several scifi books and comics (like asimovs Foundation series and the Storm comic series)

    Just my two cents

    1. That reminds me of what William Shatner wrote about in one of his Star Trek novels. Basically, once the Federation was set up, humans gave out copies of the Pioneer Plaque, the Golden Record, and other forms of 1st Contact that NASA and subsequent agencies had sent out on probes. If I recall the quote correctly, “The Vulcans came close, but no other species was able to decode any of it.”

      I personally wonder, in about 50 years, if anybody other than a ham radio person is going to be able to make sense of the playback from the VGR

        1. I mention ham radio, because (as a ham) when I listen to snippets of the VGR audio, I’m instantly reminded of APT, SSTV, or HFFAX, and could probably guess how to decode the signal.

          Who in 50 or so more years is going to be able to recognize those distinctive sounds and do something about it (even if they can figure out how to play the record), and is the codex on the VGR cover enough to figure it out the needed variables otherwise?

  15. My guess is that any civilization which was sufficiently developed to read and understand anything beyond scratches in stone would be beyond caring what we did or said beyond historical curiosity. There have been advanced civilizations on this planet, but I’m not sure what we have gotten from studying their technologies beyond realizing that we discovered something similar.

    1. There I have to disagree hugely, we consider ourselves to be an advanced culture and yet there is so much we have learned every time a new native tribe is contacted (at least if you don’t go for treating them as subhuman)- they may be primitive in many ways, but they also have a deep understanding of their environment, of the medicinal value and mechanical properties of the plants around them (etc) and often a culture that is worth understanding too. It may be very similar to ours, or almost entirely different and in both cases we learn something about ourselves as well.

      There are also technologies and observations lost for ages that can be of great use – for instance ancient star maps are a very valuable tool in proving we do/don’t understand the changing shape of the visible universe as much as we think, being points of reference from before our own trusted recording began. Or as Douglas Adams pointed out simple obvious solutions like a staircase, which is vastly superior to the Sirius Cybernetics corporations sentient elevator – something so primitive it may well be entirely overlooked in a future world…

  16. Say we find the perfect medium to store the information (and in a way so it could even be ‘read’ — not a lost language scenario) forever (until the sun supernovas or lost in space on an archive starship, etc.)….

    Now, if we as a species go back to relatively the stone-age. All that knowledge is ‘lost’ until technology can again catch up to when the ‘perfect’ medium was written, to be read again when/if found. You can’t win. If would have to be learned all over again to get to that point to read the information. The best we can do, as I see it, is to keep the data ‘spinning’ as society moves forward. The data (whatever it is– science, the bible, books, pictures, movies, history, etc..) would be moved from old tech to new tech … continually until we ‘fizzle’ …. Best we can do. You can see that in how we ‘backup’ data right now in our homes. First it was floppy disks, cassettes, tape cartridges, then cds, dvds, blu-ray, now external hdd, external SSD … As long as the data is ‘spinning’ and backed up on ‘current’ media … it isn’t lost. That said, I see books as a good fundamental medium, and they don’t require electricity and can be transcribed and translated down through the years too. Yes, you wouldn’t have it all, but some history, math, science would survive.

    1. And as pointed out above … what is important to us in our short life span … probably isn’t going to be in a 1000+ years hence. So why over-think data retention to begin with….

  17. I think about this all the time.
    Even if there isn’t a global disaster that wipes off civilization, it is very possible that within a few generations the knowledge of how to decode a JPG is lost for one reason or another.

    MSB, LSB, ASCII, NTFS, BMP, GIF, if not written down as a specification in a media that survives time and can be ELI5, then all this tremendous amount of data we have is pointless.

    In genealogy we can’t get to antiquity for a lack of records, and that was 2-3 thousand years ago. And a crap ton of people were around, and liver, and we have no idea of 99% of them.

    If we have something important we want future generations to know we have to find a way to write it down now.

    1. My PORN! OMFG!

      I need to print it out. Who knows where I can get an 18 wheeler of acid free paper and a ton each of colored toner? Gonna make flip porn movies, like I did on the edges of the textbooks in middle school.

    2. But why do we have to go back forever in our family trees? 200 years is good enough, and it’s all documented even in a small town. I’ve read that my Scottish ancestors were in the slave trade, no details. What more do I need?

      I know my great, great, great, great grandmother died when her daughter was young. I know their names. I know my family wasn’t happy when my great, great, great grandmother moved away. That’s in a book, via oral history. Sarah is not an “Indian princess” despite what the Canadian Encyclopedia says. Sitting Bull says he knew her son, I’m not sure if there’s garbling.

      A family tree isn’t that important, it’s the history attached. My Scottish great grandmother spoke enough Cree to have a conversation. These are stories on the internet, but they are also my stories. I don’t need to go backto the middle ages to find someone “important” in my family tree.

      1. I guess I used genealogical records as a simple example of record-keeping and information (as well as media) surviving to our days.

        Sure, not all information needs to be preserved, but even basic information such as ‘your name’ and ‘your parent’s names’, that I would assume a majority of people throughout the existence of humankind knew about and cared about is lost. There must have been all sorts of attempts by people over the years to record who they were, in all forms of media, but very little survived, and even less so from longer ago.

        So long story short, if there is any information we care about that we think is worth preserving for future humans (or future sentient beings), the odds are we won’t be able to.

        For an individual, genealogy and the stories attached to it can be quite interesting. Finding out about a deceased ancestor who lived 100 years ago strikes differently than finding out you are one of billions who descend from a noble figure from 1000 years ago.

        Now, as said above, genealogy is merely an example of keeping simple information through time. Scientific and mathematical knowledge is arguably much more important, and there is high likelihood almost all of it will be lost to the sands of time, especially if there is a societal collapse.

      1. LOL, my working hypothesis is that livers evolved due to people increasing consumption of beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages, those who didn’t have the capacity to drink, died out… maybe that is why there are no genealogical records from so far back, they were simply too drunk or too dead to write things down

        haha my bad, I meant to say ‘alive’

  18. Just donate it to an archive, let them worry about it.

    All I know about my great grandfather and beyond comes from the internet. And that’s because books were written and letters saved. I know more about my grandfather for the same reason, even that a cousin took my grandmother out around WWI, I’m not sure if they dated before my grandfather, or it was just a checking on her.

  19. “Do you know the function of this? (Public domain; from the Walters Aret Museum)”
    This reminds me story I saw on TV about some element (piece of tube with a ring attached via string) that was found on some ancient civilization area I think in Egypt. There was a lot of it and equally a lot theories what it was. After many years some a researcher was somewhere in Africa and found exactly that object being still made, sold and used – I was a door lock.

  20. Simply mark deeper holes and smaller holes in stone to indicate 0 or 1 (binary). Granate or perhaps some thing more tricky using crystal which could be more intricacy grown for the purpose or using natural crystals and a lasers knife “like” device to encode data inside the crystal where no “one beam” will do anything but where multiple beams convergence at a very precise point and a data latice constructed.

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