The recent announcement from the Warhol archives about recovering some Amiga art
got me thinking about how miraculous this feels and I am not talking about Warhol using an Amiga, but us being able to recover the data.
When I think about signature scenes in science fiction, the activation of the ancient computer and recovery of the data from the data banks resonates.
The story resonates because it goes to the even deeper tale of finding ancient knowledge lost in the ground, a story that the historian in me finds particularly alluring.
As I got older, and especially after a decade at NetApp, I learned how absurd the tale was. There are several challenges in decoding data. The first is the media itself requires special devices that fail over time and are no longer built, the second is the data format itself is tied to some software that requires a special piece of hardware that may no longer be manufactured and has failed, and finally there is the very unfortunate reality that the media itself fails over time. This doesn’t even begin to address the challenge of information encoding and decoding and, of course, encryption…
One of the things that fascinates me about the future and the cloud is that when some bad event happens, vast amounts of knowledge will be lost. What if all of science and technology abruptly vanishes in a sea of lost electrons leaving the future with nothing but documents about stuff we invented last century, that we might have destroyed because it was digitized … Who wants to keep dead tree media when you can digitize it?
And even if I don’t care about the cloud, I worry about me. Will everything about me get deleted because my credit card expired after I died?
And when I think about that some more, and I think about biodegradable infrastructures, and products, I begin to wonder, what if there was another civilization like ours, that had completely digitized their knowledge, had a biodegradable physical infrastructure and some catastrophic event occurred that only left these primitive dwellings behind?
So when I see someone pull up an old image that was stored on electronic media on a long-lost computer, I am amazed…
And then I wonder, will we have a profession of computer archaeology that emerges 100 years from now?