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Google boss: Our digital history is at risk

Tons of digital material that we create today might be lost to future historians because the programs we use now to read them might be unavailable in the future, Google's VP has warned.

Google's vice-president Vint Cerf told the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in San Jose, California, that future historians might be facing "bit rot" - useless computers and useless software - leading to the loss of an entire generation of material

He suggested creating a "digital vellum" to preserve old software and hardware, so that documents could be retrieved no matter how old they are.

“When you think about the quantity of documentation from our daily lives that is captured in digital form, like our interactions by email, people’s tweets, and all of the world wide web, it’s clear that we stand to lose an awful lot of our history,” he told the Guardian (opens in new tab).

“We don’t want our digital lives to fade away. If we want to preserve them, we need to make sure that the digital objects we create today can still be rendered far into the future,” he added.

Ancient civilisations didn’t have such a problem because all the reader needed was a pair of eyes. Now documents require technology in order to be accessed, which is a real irony.

We’re digitalising material in order to preserve it, when in reality we’re risking throwing it away.

“We are nonchalantly throwing all of our data into what could become an information black hole without realising it.

"We digitise things because we think we will preserve them, but what we don’t understand is that unless we take other steps, those digital versions may not be any better, and may even be worse than, than the artefacts that we digitised,” Cerf said.

“If there are photos you really care about, print them out.”

Sead Fadilpašić is a freelance tech writer and journalist with more than 17 years experience writing technology-focussed news, blogs, whitepapers, reviews, and ebooks. And his work has featured in online media outlets from all over the world, including Al Jazeera Balkans (where he was a Multimedia Journalist), Crypto News, TechRadar Pro, and IT Pro Portal, where he has written news and features for over five years. Sead's experience also includes writing for inbound marketing, where he creates technology-based content for clients from London to Singapore. Sead is a HubSpot-certified content creator.