Are We Headed Toward A Digital Dark Age? Father Of The Internet Says Yes

Vint Cerf, often referred to as one of the “Fathers of the Internet,” issued a warning that we run the risk of entering a digital dark age. Cerf, currently Chief Internet Evangelist for Google, is known as one of the fathers of the Internet for helping to design the architecture of the Internet.

The Hill reports that Cerf addressed a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Jose, California, saying, “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 cites software and hardware obsolescence as a real danger that can plunge us into a digital dark age by making data inaccessible. Susan Schreiner, an analyst for C4 Trends, explained Cerf’s concern for TechNewsWorld, “It [digital storage] has made it easier for people to share and store data, but it is absolutely a problem if you don’t have the hardware to access it.”

The problem of equipment and software obsolescence is not new. Cerf coined the term “bit rot” to describe the phenomenon. The problem of accessing old digital files has been under discussion in the tech community for two decades.

In an interview with the BBC, Cerf said, “You and I are experiencing things like this. Old formats of documents that we’ve created or presentations may not be readable by the latest version of the software because backwards compatibility is not always guaranteed.”

To help address the issue, Cerf suggests using x-ray technology to preserve every piece of computer software so that files never become inaccessible. He is most concerned for future generations who, if we do lose decades worth of digital data, may not have a means of reconstructing our history and may know little about the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Cerf went on to say, “And so what can happen over time is that even if we accumulate vast archives of digital content, we may not actually know what it is.” Vint Cerf, an unlikely advocate for hard copies, also offered the practical suggestion for safeguarding our valued photos and documents saying, “If there are photos you really care about, print them out.”

[Image: Vint Cerf (Getty Images)]