Doomsday and archiving human knowledge

Doomsday vault:

In the side of a mountain atop the frigid wastelands of the Norway’s Svalbard archipelago sits the Arctic ‘doomsday vault’ – an ominous facility that’s locked away close to a million seed samples from almost every country on Earth.

Designed to keep the seeds safe from nuclear war or some other global catastrophe, the Svalbard Global Seed Bank just got a new neighbour, with a second doomsday vault opening up nearby. But instead of storing seeds, this vast library has been built to ensure the survival of the world’s most important books, documents, and data….

Oddly enough, instead of taking advantage of the most advanced data security systems available, researchers at Piql have opted for a more analogue approach – they store everything on photosensitive film, which they say is a far safer option than anything digitised.

“It’s digital data preserved, written onto photosensitive film,” Piql founder Rune Bjerkestrand told Live Science. 

“So we write data as basically big QR codes on films.”

The idea is that while digital data is stored on our computers as codes of 1s and 0s, analogue data is physically etched into reels of film, and can be ‘read’ like the bumps on a vinyl record.

As Bjerkestrand observes, it’s like having your data “carved in stone.”

Hopefully this technology will keep the material more accessible than the multimedia version of the English Domesday Book which had its problems with technology, even though the original from 11th century is still readable. The BBC Domesday Project was the multimedia edition of Domesday which was compiled between 1984 and 1986 and published in 1986 but within 15-years it was showing its age.

In 2002, there were great fears that the discs would become unreadable as computers capable of reading the format had become rare and drives capable of accessing the discs even rarer. Aside from the difficulty of emulating the original code, a major issue was that the still images had been stored on the laserdisc as single-frame analogue video, which were overlaid by the computer system’s graphical interface. The project had begun years before JPEG image compression and before truecolour computer video cards had become widely available….

The deputy editor of the Domesday Project, Mike Tibbets, has criticized the UK’s National Data Archive to which the archive material was originally entrusted, arguing that the creators knew that the technology would be short-lived but that the archivists had failed to preserve the material effectively.

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