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Data Storage Hardware Technology

Europeans Bury "Digital DNA" Inside a Mountain 161

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libraries, archives, and research institutions, to preserve the world's digital assets as hardware and software is superseded at a blistering pace.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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  • 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?
  • 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?
  • 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.

  • 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 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.
  • 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...
  • Humans didn't do it 10000 years ago and we still figured out what happened back then.

    Don't forget the cave paintings, scrolls, clay tablets and the like. (:

  • 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.
  • 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 []. 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. []

  • by spazdor ( 902907 ) on Tuesday May 18, 2010 @04:44PM (#32257798)

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

  • by Wyatt Earp ( 1029 ) on Tuesday May 18, 2010 @04:48PM (#32257846)

    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 usable.

    Multiple copies in storage in multiple locations.

  • 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 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 RedmondChris ( 1814508 ) on Tuesday May 18, 2010 @05:56PM (#32258540)
    Do they know something we don't know?

Marvelous! The super-user's going to boot me! What a finely tuned response to the situation!