Rather than a world where longevity is a given, Cerf fears a “digital dark age” in which the rapid evolution of technology quickly makes storage formats obsolete thanks to a phenomenon he calls “bit rot.”
In that world, the applications needed to read files we so confidently store today could be lost because they’re incompatible with new hardware technologies that emerge. The result, he contends, could be that many of our those files will be rendered useless, inaccessible to future generations.
But offers a possible solution:
Cerf’s proposed solution is something he calls “digital vellum”—essentially, a tool for preserving old technologies so that even obsolete files can be recovered.
“At a high level, the way to solve this would be to maintain at a minimum read compatibility with older data even as new technologies are introduced without worrying about performance, capacity or cost,” said Eric Burgener, a research director with IDC (International Data Corporation).
But there’s a bit of a sticky wicket:
The lack of a profit motive is a big part of the problem, (said Simon Robinson, a research vice president with 451 Research)… “This is not seen as a lucrative opportunity, so not really worth the investments required.”
Odd. I have some books that date back to the early 20th century – and I can still read them. At no additional cost. With some very old hardware. That still works.