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Data Storage Hardware Technology

Europeans Bury "Digital DNA" Inside a Mountain 161

Posted by kdawson
from the you-must-remember-this dept.
adeelarshad82 writes "In a secret bunker deep in the Swiss Alps, European researchers deposited a 'digital genome' that will provide the blueprint for future generations to read data stored using defunct technology. 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, known as the Swiss Fort Knox. The capsule is the culmination of the four-year 'Planets' 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libraries, archives, and research institutions, to preserve the world's digital assets as hardware and software is superseded at a blistering pace. The project hopes to preserve 'data DNA,' the information and tools required to access and read historical digital material and prevent digital memory loss into the next century."
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Europeans Bury "Digital DNA" Inside a Mountain

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Future generations of purist can use it as a reference for "cleansings".

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by spazdor (902907)

      Let's be real here. We're doing this so that anthropologists from other spacefaring civilizations will be able to read all the stories about us plowing ourselves to hell.

      • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

        by spazdor (902907)

        Blowing. What the hell are you trying to say, typo gnomes?

        • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          They are saying we will die off to unsustainable farming?

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            Let's just say that you wouldn't want Monsanto's license server to go offline...
            • by dwywit (1109409)
              Why not? It's up to them to prove you don't have a licence to use their products. If they have to admit in court that "sorry but our licence database cannot produce a report saying joe smith does not have a licence", that would satisfy my reasonable doubt.
      • by lorenlal (164133)

        Hopefully they'll understand the languages that are contained on all that data....

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by spazdor (902907)

          Well, naturally we'll also archive a copy of all the Rosetta Stone(tm) language packages.

      • Single safe = single point of failure. Distribute the information as noncoding dna in the genomes of cockroaches. That'll last.

  • Fuck you PC World. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday May 18, 2010 @03:19PM (#32256606) Journal
    Would it have killed you to include the slightest mention of what "the key to unpick defunct digital formats" is in an article discussing how the Europeans have stashed one away?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 18, 2010 @03:27PM (#32256728)

      The key is a COBOL program written on punchcard.

    • by Mordok-DestroyerOfWo (1000167) on Tuesday May 18, 2010 @03:33PM (#32256846)
      It's the Elvish word for 'friend'
    • This is mostly a joke, but not 100% a joke. I sincerely hope it's not true. However, the thought occurs to me that maybe this "key" is nothing more than, say, a copy of Windows 98 on floppy discs. Seriously, without more information about this supposed "key" we have no way to know if those involved actually did include something that might really be useful to future generations who want to get at the data or if they did something as stupid as what I suggested.
      • by umghhh (965931)
        Donno what they put there but if it was me I would have put:
        • dvd player
        • connected to HDTV set
        • dynamo to power them
        • case full of pr0n

        Nothing else actually deserves to be stahsed away and protected. I mean frankly what artifacts of every day life that you see around actually deserve to be saved for future generations? None! Or you mean some Hollywood shit or all speeches of Reagan do?

    • by J.J. Dane (1562629) on Tuesday May 18, 2010 @04:10PM (#32257376)
      http://www.ifs.tuwien.ac.at/dp/timecapsule/timecapsule.html [tuwien.ac.at] has a bit more meat on it
    • by h00manist (800926) on Tuesday May 18, 2010 @05:24PM (#32258224) Journal

      Would it have killed you to include the slightest mention of what "the key to unpick defunct digital formats" is in an article discussing how the Europeans have stashed one away?

      Can't be mentioned, it's a stash of software, much of it copyrighted, abandonware with no clear owners, old versions of software with no proper redistribution licence, etc. Emulators for old platforms, with copyright and patent issues. And a bunch of old equipment, with as much specifications and manuals as possible. So in order to provide information to future generations, this generation's laws had to be somewhat ignored.

      • by natehoy (1608657)

        But, hopefully, by the time we ever need it, the copyrights will be expired.

        We can only hope Disney goes out of business soon so content created in the later half of last century will be freed by the middle of next century.

      • So in order to provide information to future generations, this generation's laws had to be somewhat ignored.

        Thankfully, the whole thing is happening in Switzerland.
        Given the backup/archival/musem nature of the project, it might be tolerated under the fair-use provision of the swiss copyright law.
        And according the local DMCA-clone, if it is done in order to produce a legal copy, you're free to break any DRM standing in your way.
        (although I find the legality of providing tools for such protection-removal ambiguous due to bad wording).

        For software patents the situation seems to me less clear, although some of them a

    • defunct digital formats

      Hope they included blu-ray

    • by daem0n1x (748565)
      Don't worry, It's a TB of documents all in Word 95 format. What can go wrong?
  • Frankly... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by raving griff (1157645) on Tuesday May 18, 2010 @03:21PM (#32256626)
    If we are taking such precautions to insure that this data key will not be destroyed, would not in the worst case scenario virtually every piece of data that ISN'T buried under a mountain be gone too?
    • Re:Frankly... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday May 18, 2010 @03:28PM (#32256740) Journal
      I suspect that the logic(aside from the fact that it simply isn't economic to store everything in blast vaults), is that today's cheap, common, ubiquitous digital formats are widespread enough to more or less protect themselves through sheer numbers(can you imagine how much of the earth's surface you'd have to nuke to get rid of all the XP install CDs?); but that the incentives and technology required for them to be readable and useful in a few decades, or after a modest nuclear exchange or something, are actually quite rare. Thus, you put the work and money into building the reading/decoding tech, and just bury that.
    • by RDW (41497)

      'If we are taking such precautions to insure that this data key will not be destroyed, would not in the worst case scenario virtually every piece of data that ISN'T buried under a mountain be gone too?'

      Well, if I've learned anything from James Bond films, their precautions ('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.') pretty much ensure the whole thing

  • Hmm. (Score:5, Funny)

    by swanzilla (1458281) on Tuesday May 18, 2010 @03:24PM (#32256674) Homepage

    "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"..."the information and tools required to access and read historical digital material and prevent digital memory loss into the next century."

    Perhaps they should include the calculations they used to equate 25 years with 90 years.

  • What if... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by EdtheFox (959194)
    What if future generations never find it after the apocalypse? After all, it is in a secret bunker deep in the Swiss Alps
    • Re:What if... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by thedonger (1317951) on Tuesday May 18, 2010 @04:01PM (#32257242)
      Or what if they do find it and can't figure out how to use the key? Even a written language can become undecipherable after enough time passes. Now they think they can ensure digital access to an unknown future generation with technology we can't imagine? At the very least that requires electricity analogous to what we have now, and - now I'm talking hundreds of years - just the idea of encoding data in 1's and 0's. By then we'll just be imprinting information in viscous goop and reading it by dipping our finger in the goop and tasting it. Try that with any current storage media.
  • Do they have Ogg Theora? I ask because I have some videos I transcoded a year or two ago and....

  • Always been wondering what those Swiss are doing under those mountains. Storing information about data formats, sure. This is propaganda straight from Them - They want you to believe this to secure what is *really* down there. Data formats, right - They could as well hang out a sign reading "The content of this underground bunker complex is BORING. Don't go there, you'd only waste your time." Something up in Their propaganda department lately? I am used to better work.
    • by Brad1138 (590148)

      Always been wondering what those Swiss are doing under those mountains.

      This is just a ploy, a cover, for there ultimate goal [wikipedia.org].

    • by InterGuru (50986)

      The Swiss have long protected all their military force in underground bunkers. This is one reason Hitler did not attack them. For details, see The Swiss Army by John McPhee. [bookwormhole.net]

      When I lived there 25 years ago all houses and workplaces a nuclear bomb shelters.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by piquadratCH (749309)

        The Swiss have long protected all their military force in underground bunkers. This is one reason Hitler did not attack them.

        Could you please stop spreading false information that historians debunked decades ago? Thanks.

  • Nothing new (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ledow (319597) on Tuesday May 18, 2010 @03:27PM (#32256738) Homepage

    It's been done before, in various guises. The BBC Domesday project springs to mind, and numerous digital timecapsules.

    It seems to me that such projects have a lot in common with SETI searches - somehow providing information to someone who may not have the capability to decode it until they understand the entire message anyway. It always gets me that in such projects they don't do simple things before they lock stuff away, or send a message, like: give a bunch of (non-computing) students the devices / data and don't tell them what it is, how it works. Make sure they've never heard of the project you're working on, then lock them in a room with the data / devices and see what they do. If they can't decode it completely, your project is too elaborate and will not meet its aims. If they only decode it because of their knowledge of the area, then get someone else. Until an average mathematician / physicist / whatever can decode it, it's too complicated to be decoded by a post-nuclear generation and / or ET considering their inherent communication problems in some circumstances anyway.

    I have a good feeling that the Voyager golden records would never be completely decoded in such circumstances.

    • by symes (835608)
      There is another issue worth considering - perhaps if current human endeavours wreak mahem on Earth then surely it would be perhaps quite a good idea to start afresh.
    • by Yer Mum (570034)
      And to prove the article's point, the Domesday project is to all intents and purposes now unreadable.
  • Does this include the DRM keys to all the defunct DRM schemes that were supposed to let you access the songs, video and books that you had bought, but went out of business and took the keys to your data with them! Or is this just a copy of the DVD Rebook and other such information on the various and sundry formats!
  • I guess they will stash a copy of AnyDVD somewhere in the vault as well...
  • Did they remember to include information on how to read the BBC Doomsday project laserdiscs?

    I believe the required laserdisc players went out of production something more than 10 years ago and spare parts stopped being manufactured something like 5 years ago.

    • Don't forget CEDs [wikipedia.org].

    • provided the level of technology hasn't gone down too far, or has sufficient recovered after a doomsday event, I'm guessing figuring how to read the dots of those disks isn't going to be all that much of a problem. provided they printen a ascii table on one side, it should be all set.
      • Reading the "dots" wouldn't help you in seeing the image data stored on a laserdisc: It's not a binary format.

        • by dangitman (862676)

          Reading the "dots" wouldn't help you in seeing the image data stored on a laserdisc: It's not a binary format.

          Doesn't that make it a lot easier to decode, then?

          • Depends upon your definition of "easier"...

            It may seem intuitive to us to spin the disc at a specific speed (dependent upon where on the disc you're reading from, this is all a massive oversimplification) and then read the data with a photodiode, filtering the signal with a few passive components before feeding that into the composite video input of a television but such details may not seem so intuitive in a few years when old CRT displays and their signaling technology has long disappeared into the sunset

  • by recharged95 (782975) on Tuesday May 18, 2010 @03:31PM (#32256822) Journal
    ...pretty much everything today can be stored on a home server in 8yrs.

    With distributed technology, cloud servers, and bit torrent, to spend a few million to store a few formats and keycodes on moving tectonic plates seems a bit illogical. Humans didn't do it 10000 years ago and we still figured out what happened back then.
  • We have heard of cloning by grabbing the DNA from a cell and putting it into an embryo or stem cell or whatever. But have we ever sequenced DNA, transferred the data, used it to replicate a DNA molecule, and then make a living organism from it? If we can do that, then recording DNA is good. If we can't, perhaps we ought to first work on the restoration process. We could literally seed and populate distant worlds with DNA from our planet by building a tiny factory with a database and sending it out to lan

    • by sincewhen (640526)

      Which leads me to ask the question: Why would we want to seed other planets with organisms from the earth? Just to perpetuate ourselves? What a strange idea.

  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Tuesday May 18, 2010 @03:35PM (#32256884)
    It's all very well having nuke-proof bunkers and thick steel doors. But at some point someone's gotta get in there (presuming they think out digital formats are worth decoding - they could be in for a bit of a disappointment) to get the keys. If the future society gets into such a state where it's lost all the external copies of these keys it's probably not going to be too good at looking after physical means of access.

    I can just imaging after the next war / asteroid / depression / pandemic all these people standing outside this massive steel door, wondering what the hell was inside it?

    • Just write "Contains neither canned goods nor ammunition" on the door in a variety of common world languages, as well as the pictograms used in McDonald's procedural documentation(mankind's last written language during the apocalypse, dontcha know), and the rabble should ignore it.
    • by couchslug (175151)

      People have been able to figure out how to break rock for a very long time.

      The barrier to entry keeps out those who panic, yet rewards diligent effort in future.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by richard.cs (1062366)

        I remember reading in some sci fi book about a vault that was sealed by attaching a chunk of a long-lived radioisotope to the back of a tight fitting steel door such that the heat released caused the door to expand and jam tightly into the frame. The idea was that it could only be opened by a fairly advanced civilisation that was capable of artificial refrigeration, plus of course able to recognise what was needed. I always found that an intriguing idea although anyone sufficiently determined could probably

  • Let the great age of Apple IIe emulation last forevermore.

  • In twenty-five years, there will be no way to decode the data format they used to store their data about decoding data formats. :P

  • we may as well have decided to pack unicorn farts into old lorries and drive them through candy mountain to the fairy princess....apply the word 'digital' 'cloud' or 'virtualization' anywhere in the aformentioned statement you feel it will produce the most revenue.
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday May 18, 2010 @03:42PM (#32256984) Journal
    Since TFA was a bit light on the details, who wants to do some speculating on how they would preserve digital data for the long term?

    With modern CNC/rapid prototyping tech, stone or fired clay tablets could actually be surprisingly painless, if still rather bulky. Printing with good toner on high quality paper(or something paper-esque but more durable, like Tyvek) would last pretty well, and be a lot smaller.

    The more important decision would probably be how to express yourself: You'd probably want to use common world languages and math as much as possible. If you have to include binaries, you might even describe your own simple VM. If you needed better storage density, you could plaintext a description of, say, a barcode format, assuming that the future will have optical sensors good enough for the purpose, and then store the rest as barcodes printed/etched onto tablets...
  • to hide the pass key to the door somewhere safe.
  • The only flaw in their plan: the documents describing how to read these formats are stored on eight-inch floppies.

  • by zill (1690130) on Tuesday May 18, 2010 @03:55PM (#32257164)
    In 3010 AD, archaeologists discovered a sealed vault hidden deep under the Earth - full of technologies that are defective by design, algorithms engineered to restrict the users on how they can enjoy their own media, even rootkits disguised as music CDs.

    What did they find? DRM Hell.
  • The internet was initially designed to keep working in the event of a nuclear war, as it avoids having a single point of failure. Why not do the same with the "digital genome"? Distribute the "capsule" amongst thousands - millions? - of computers and update it every few months or so. Invite volunteers to participate SETI@Home style. Each participating PC / smartphone / game console / etc. etc. could hold manageable portions if it that could be readily reassembled. Store copies offline in the storage media o
  • by MartinSchou (1360093) on Tuesday May 18, 2010 @04:09PM (#32257362)

    I've been thinking about long term storage solutions for a while, and if we're looking at solutions that would survive floods, EMPs etc., pretty much all methods we have available today are done for. Also they require access to readers that may be ruined for whatever reasons.

    Essentially I keep coming back to punch-cards or similar. Not into paper, but into something like anodized titanium [wikipedia.org]. The colour spectrum available there could allow something like 4 or 8 bit encoding per dot. Not entirely sure about how small you can make the dots, nor how close together you can put them if you want more than just two colours.

    It'd be somewhat human readable, in that you just need a microscope to view the dots, and then it's just the usual translation method of course. And you could store a simple "dictionary" of cards with large dots + words/characters to make it easy to translate (a Rosetta Stone). And since it's titanium it's unlikely to be affected by the usual disasters. It doesn't melt until 1,668 C, so it's probably going to be quite stable in most types of fires, it pretty resistant to acids, the anodizing should go through the metal, so even sandblasting it won't remove the information (unless you cut through it of course).

    Depending on the size of the dots, I think you could even make a simple credit card sized object, that you could show to a web cam to use as a private key for private/public key encryption, logging on to your workstation, getting in to a secure facility and so on.

    And if done properly, you could probably disguise the key if necessary. You can already get custom backs/covers for your iPod/iPhone. Why not get one with this kind of back on it? Hide the key via something like steganography, making every n pixel a part of the key.

    • by Wyatt Earp (1029) on Tuesday May 18, 2010 @04:20PM (#32257524)

      Why not paper?

      Documents on papyrus and parchment will last 2000+ years if properly stored.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_sea_scrolls [wikipedia.org]

      • If properly stored. Notice the possible disasters I mentioned? Or even if you store them properly. What happens when you start looking at them? Accidents happen.

        And just how small can you make the characters, to make them readable later? The smaller the ink dot, the easier it is for it do disappear over time.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Wyatt Earp (1029)

          Water - there are metal, stone, plastic casks that will remain water resistant over time. Or in a container in a salt mine, cave system, or geographically located where it won't flood. Like Jordan/Israel where the Dead Sea Scrolls were. Or...Black Hills of South Dakota, Wasatch range of Utah, Yucca Mountain, Missouri Karst.

          EMP - Paper/parchment is remarkably resistant to EMP. I mean, a fractional orbital bombardment system with a multi-megaton nuke could go off over the US and all the paper would remain usa

    • by CAIMLAS (41445)

      Essentially I keep coming back to punch-cards or similar. Not into paper, but into something like anodized titanium [wikipedia.org]. The colour spectrum available there could allow something like 4 or 8 bit encoding per dot. Not entirely sure about how small you can make the dots, nor how close together you can put them if you want more than just two colours.

      My god: why?!

      Let's say 3000 years from now someone were to discover such a tomb - a scientifically advanced civilization skilled in the sciences of the earth, sky, and mind.

      What do you think their response would be if they were to find a tomb full of complexly-encoded data? Might they even not recognize it as such, initially?

      It's somewhat presumptuous that their encoding methods would be even remotely similar to our's: they may have made an entirely different approach to "computing", for instance. Maybe the

    • by sincewhen (640526)

      A major problem with using non-corroding metals is that they are usually valuable. So, for very long term storage there is a good chance that someone will come along and "loot" your archive, valuing the materials over the content.

  • at the data storage facility, known as the Swiss Fort Knox.

    When I read that, I immediately thought that must be journalist speak with the intelligence level turned way down for the mass media. However, it seems to really exist:

    http://www.swissfortknox.ch/swissfortknox-english/index.html [swissfortknox.ch]

    "highest protection against ... " Blah blah blah long list of unlikely events. But it seems to exclude the extremely likely event of landslides and avalanches.

  • ...locked away for the next quarter of a century behind a 3-1/2 ton door strong enough to resist nuclear attack...

    Researchers reported that the combination to the door has been misplaced, possibly inside the vault itself. When asked, the grad-student replied, "Dude, I though you had it."

  • by grendelb (309720) on Tuesday May 18, 2010 @05:00PM (#32257982)
    The Long Now Foundation [longnow.org] is thinking about and working on projects like The Rosetta Disk [rosettaproject.org], which crams a bunch of languages onto a 4 inch metal disk. "This is an archive of over 1,500 human languages assembled in the year 02008 C.E. Magnify 1,000 times to find over 13,000 pages of language documentation. The text begins at eye-readable scale and spirals down to nano-scale. This tapered ring of languages is intended to maximize the number of people that will be able to read something immediately upon picking up the Disk, as well as implying the directions for using it—‘get a magnifier and there is more.’" That's just part of their "10,000 year library."
  • "Digital DNA" I don't know if I should snicker or barf. Hey Reuters, Don't give up your day job... Uh oh.
  • Waste of money (Score:5, Insightful)

    by guspasho (941623) on Tuesday May 18, 2010 @05:16PM (#32258150)

    The summary says they are trying to preserve data into the next century. It seems to me if you want to ensure the availability of information into the next century, the least efficient thing you could do is lock it in a highly-protected vault deep under a mountain that nobody can get to. Instead you ought to be distributing the information far and wide in as many formats as possible. Post it on Wikipedia and various other sites that are likely to be preserved and distributed themselves. Print lots of physical copies and put them in all the libraries around the world. Otherwise you're just hoarding it.

    • by swordgeek (112599)

      I know the article is poorly written, but you could at least read it.

      "...adding that the project had made open-use software available online to enable people to decipher data stored in defunct formats."

      Isn't that what you're asking for?

      Furthermore, what about the hardware? The article didn't say clearly, but it sounds like they've included hardware, so I would expect to see gear to read 9-track, Exabyte, paper tape, punchcard, QIC, floppy (about a dozen formats), WORM, Zip, Diablo, and more. (All of which -

  • Do they know something we don't know?
  • They talk of digital DNA as if that's in contrast to biological DNA being analog or something, but DNA is digital, represented in quaternary [wikipedia.org] (base 4).
  • I would think that it would be more productive to put a copy of this "digital key" online as a community accessible and editable (with moderation) resource. Open source programs that read these old formats (i.e., a library of sorts), ASCII documentation on each one, schematics of reference hardware, and the fostering of a community to maintain such a library (perhaps with funding) would probably go a longer way to ensure that an *.odt or *.xlsx document from today is still easily readable in 25 years.

    That

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