Europeans Bury ‘Digital DNA’ Inside Mountain

Photo via flickr by Daniel Leininger

In a secret bunker known as the Swiss Fort Knox deep in the Swiss Alps, European researchers recently deposited a “digital genome” that will provide the blueprint for future generations to read data stored using defunct technology. Accompanied by burly security guards in black uniforms, scientists carried a time capsule through a labyrinth of tunnels and five security zones to a vault near the slopes of chic ski resort Gstaad.

The sealed box containing the key to unpick defunct digital formats will be locked away for the next quarter of a century behind a 3-1/2 ton door strong enough to resist nuclear attack at the data storage facility.

The capsule is the culmination of the four-year “Planets” project, an 15 million-euro ($18.49 million) project which draws on the expertise of 16 European libraries, archives and research institutions, to preserve the world’s digital assets as hardware and software. The capsule deposited contains the digital equivalent of the genetic code of different data formats, a ‘digital genome.’

Around 100 GB of data—equivalent to 24 tons of books—has already been created for every single individual on the planet, ranging from holiday snaps to health records, project organizers said, adding this amounted to over 1 trillion CDs worth of data across the globe.

But as technological breakthroughs help people to live longer, the lifespan of technology gets shorter, meaning the European Union alone loses digital information worth at least 3 billion euros every year, they said. Studies suggest common data storage formats like CDs and DVDs only last 20 years, while digital file formats have a life expectancy of just five to seven years. Hardware even less.

“Unlike hieroglyphics carved in stone or ink on parchment, digital data has a shelf life of years not millennia,” said Andreas Rauber, a professor at the University of Technology of Vienna, which is a partner in the project.

The project hopes to preserve “data DNA,” the information and tools to access and read historical digital material and prevent digital memory loss into the next century.

This could have uses for countless different organizations, from pharmaceutical companies trying to access test data decades from now or aerospace companies checking design details of planes built to fly for 30 or 40 years.

People will be puzzled at what they find when they open the time capsule, said Rauber. “In 25 years people will be astonished to see how little time must pass to render data carriers unusable because they break or because you don’t have the devices anymore,” he said. “The second shock will probably be what fraction of the objects we can’t use or access in 25 years and that’s hard to predict.”

via PC Mag

2 responses to “Europeans Bury ‘Digital DNA’ Inside Mountain”

  1. Matt Warren says:

    This is a great pointer. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Our Digital DNA | The Long Game says:

    [...] Our Digital DNABy Matt WarrenPublished: July 5, 2010 Hello there! If you are new here, you might want to subscribe to the RSS feed for updates on this topic.Powered by WP Greet Box WordPress PluginIn a secret bunker known as the Swiss Fort Knox deep in the Swiss Alps, European researchers recently deposited a “digital genome” that will provide the blueprint for future generations to read data stored using defunct technology. (Sputnik) [...]

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