Internet Pioneer Vint Cerf Warns Of 'Bit Rot' And 'Digital Dark Age' But Don't Panic Yet


The father of the Internet is issuing a proclamation that could be viewed as the antithesis of his legacy: print out any photos and computer files you deem valuable, historical and worth protecting before "bit rot" turns them into digital ashes and they are gone forever.

Vint Cerf, now a Google VP and long viewed as one of the founders of what became the Internet, believes digitized files are in danger of being left rendered useless once their current programs and computer formats have gone the way of the Beta and VHS tape systems.

For those unsure of what VHS and Beta mean, it's akin to CDs giving way to DVDs, the Polaroid giving way to the digital camera, the home stereo and vinyl records morphing into the Walkman then into the iPod Touch and finally today's smartphones that provide all those movie, music and photo capabilities and more.

"When you think about the quantity of documentation from our daily lives that is captured in digital form, like our interactions by email, people's tweets, and all of the World Wide Web, it's clear that we stand to lose an awful lot of our history," Cerf said at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting in San Jose, California.

Why? Well because one day there may not be a Microsoft Word app, or JPG-compatible photo editors or, with any luck, Excel programs, which would render any information stored in any of those currently used formats inaccessible and essentially lost to history and future generations.

"To do this properly, the rights of preservation might need to be incorporated into our thinking about things like copyright and patents and licensing. We're talking about preserving them for hundreds to thousands of years," said Cerf.

The key, as industry experts are quickly responding, is the proliferation and universal embracement of open standards and open programs.

Another potential solution, according to Cerf, is developing "digital vellum" to preserve software, hardware and all of today's technology programs so that files can be saved and preserved for generations. His solution is an "X-ray snapshot of the content and the application and the operating system together, with a description of the machine that it runs on, and preserve that for long periods of time."

On that note, it's time to fire up that color jet printer, grab a few hundred cases of paper, ink cartridges and those vinyl indestructible photo albums and get to work.

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