SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN
      
   

WARNING: DIGITAL DOCUMENT IN DANGER.

LIVING WELL PAST AGE 100.
LAUGHING CANNIBALS AND MAD COWS.

SUPERCONTINENT OF 750 MILLION YEARS AGO IS PIECED TOGATHER FOR THE FIRST TIME.

ENSURING THE LONGEVITY OF DIGITAL DOCUMENTS

THE DIGITAL MEDIUM IS REPLACING PAPER IN A DRAMATIC RECORD-KEEPING REVOLUTION.BUT SUCH DOCUMENT MAY BE LOST UNLESS WE ACT NOW

BY JEFF ROTHENBERG

THE YEAR IS 2045,AND MY GRAND CHILDREN ( AS YET UNBORN ) ARE EXPLORING THE ATTIC OF MY HOUSE ( AS YET UNBOUGHT ). They find a letter dated 1995 and a CD-ROM.THE latter says the disk contains a document that provides the key to obtaining my fortune ( as yet unearned ) my grandchildren are understandably Excited,but they have never before seen a CD except in old movies.even if they can find a suitable disk drive.how will they run The software necessary to interpret what is on the disk?how can they read my obsolete digital document?

This imaginary scenerio reveals some fundamental problems with digital document without the explanatory letter ,my grandchildren would have no reason to think the disk in my attic was worth deciphering.the letter possesses the enviable quality of being readable with no machinery,tools or special knowledge beyond that of English because digital information can be copied and Recopied perfectly ,it is often extolled for its supposed longevity The truth however is that because of changing hardware and software ,only the letter will be immedietly intelligible 50 years from now.

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