Sunday, November 7, 2010

Fossilised data - the ultimate back-up?

There's an interesting discussion on Slashdot today about how to store digital images underground in a format still readable 25 years later. There are some interesting suggestions.

One person proposes avoiding problems with changing memory formats by putting a whole computer into the time capsule. Only a power supply would be needed to view them in the future. Unfortunately the fact many computer components would corrode make that unlikely to succeed.

Others suggest using archival paper that should last more than a century, to either print the photos, or even the digital 1s and 0s that make them up. To try that last suggestion yourself, check out this site.

If you wanted data to last even longer, this idea to encode data as millimetre-scale bumps on a thick steel disk might serve useful.

New Scientist's resident potter Dan Palmer says ceramic glazes could be used to imprint clay with data, as dots, bar codes, or pictures. When fired to stoneware temperatures, they could last thousands of years.

Searching for a truly long term solution, our online tech reporter Colin Barras points out that long-lasting data needs to fossilise well. That's not impossible - insects up to 150 million years old trapped in amber can have fine features like compound eyes well preserved.

Perhaps the ultimate digital time capsule would contain data stored in a physical format, and then encased in a material that will fossilise it nicely. Tree resin springs to mind, but I'm sure there are better alternatives.

Of course, making it something that is obviously a message to inhabitants of the future is another problem, and one that is very real for designers of nuclear waste stores.

Tom Simonite, online technology editorLabels: computing, history

Posted by Tom at 10:30 AM

No comments:

Post a Comment