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Ask Slashdot: Permanent Preservation of Human Knowledge?

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the you-mean-facebook-won't-survive-the-apocalypse? dept.

Data Storage 277

Wayne2 writes "While there have been many attempts to preserve human knowledge in electronic format, it occurred to me that these attempts all assume that human civilization remains more or less intact. Given humanity's history of growth and collapse with knowledge repeatedly gained then lost, has anyone considered a more permanent solution? I realize that this could be very difficult and/or expensive depending on how long we want to preserve the information and what assumptions we make regarding posterity's ability to access it. Alternatively, are we, as a species, willing to start over if we experience a catastrophe, pandemic, etc. of significant magnitude on a global scale that derails our progress and sends us back to the dark ages or worse?"

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Easy! DRM is the answer! (5, Funny)

erroneus (253617) | about a year ago | (#44181415)

It "protects" content right?

Re:Easy! DRM is the answer! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44181615)

This comment wins at slashdot.

Royalties (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about a year ago | (#44181435)

You can't copy humanity, "Stupidity" has been patented already.

Re:Royalties (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44182199)

You can't copy humanity, "Stupidity" has been patented already.

That didn't stop the Chinese from stealing it...

This one gives an idea: (5, Informative)

SYSS Mouse (694626) | about a year ago | (#44181455)

Re:This one gives an idea: (2)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#44181591)

TL;DR: If the end of the world is imminent in two hours, check existing articles for typographical errors, errors of fact and style issues and start transmitting them from the world's radio telescopes to the 300 nearest stars and to the centre of the galaxy for as long as possible.

Re:This one gives an idea: (1)

MeepMeep (111932) | about a year ago | (#44181619)

Wasn't that an April Fool's Day joke article?

With a line like this... (2)

Draconi (38078) | about a year ago | (#44181715)

"The message will be accompanied by a short video message by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, and images required for the re-creation of fundraiser banners."

I can tell it's definitely the real deal and in no way an April Fool's joke!

Re:This one gives an idea: (1)

Muros (1167213) | about a year ago | (#44181705)

BS alarms ringing after reading this bit: "It is already the practice of the encyclopedia to create a database dump, a record of the data from the Wikipedia database, on a regular basis. This data is compressed using the highly efficient Honda-Beech data compression method, which compresses the data by a ratio of up to 1,000,000:1."

Re:This one gives an idea: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44181733)

BS alarms ringing after reading this bit: "It is already the practice of the encyclopedia to create a database dump, a record of the data from the Wikipedia database, on a regular basis. This data is compressed using the highly efficient Honda-Beech data compression method, which compresses the data by a ratio of up to 1,000,000:1."

With emphasis on "of up to" ... 1:1 falls comfortably in that range :)

Re:This one gives an idea: (1)

dgatwood (11270) | about a year ago | (#44181883)

BS alarms ringing after reading this bit ...

Wait, so it took you two-thirds of the article before your alarm started sounding? The zombie apocalypse bit (global revenant epidemic) didn't tip you off?

Re:This one gives an idea: (1)

Z00L00K (682162) | about a year ago | (#44181773)

Most of the information we have is actually not very significant. If there comes a time when we need to get back to where we had a decent civilization and knowledge it shall be on printed form, not electronic. There are too many examples already where electronic data is unreadable because the hardware to read it no longer exists and has been replaced by more efficient means. Of course - it's not very hard to re-create punched card readers and punched tape readers, but how many have the means to read 8" floppies today?

When I refer to information that isn't significant - then I think of all the tax records and statistics accumulated. It's numbers, but you can't really do much from them. Engineering handbooks on the other hand are very useful when rebuilding. Metallurgy, chemistry, mechanics, physics are all things that are good to know in order to be able to rebuild. Medicine is of course also useful. It is probably enough with information to fill a few bookshelves. Historic records can be added as a secondary set of items, but they are harder to use if you lack the references, and how can we know what is real and what is fiction?

Just beware us from religious extremists like Nehemiah Scudder [wikipedia.org] .

And if you create printed material that shall survive a cataclysm - use the Rosetta Stone technique - same message in multiple languages/writings. And lock it up into vaults spread over the world that requires skill rather than brute force to open and access. Place them in geological stable and dry places that are rarely accessed by humans today. Punch it on stainless steel sheets or something.

Re:This one gives an idea: (4, Insightful)

infolation (840436) | about a year ago | (#44182081)

There is one form of information that is very significant for future generations - the locations and contents of Nuclear burial sites. The film 'Into Eternity' about the Finnish sites documents this issue - how do we make sure humans, perhaps 100,000 years hence, understand the nature and toxicity of the contents, without making them curious about discovering what lies within. The Egyptians tried this 4,000 years ago - writing messages warding off potential interlopers to their sacred burial sites. That outcome is perhaps an indication of how a future civilization would perceive our messages.

Re:This one gives an idea: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44181881)

Categories: Wikipedia humor | Wikipedia April Fools' Day 2009 ... :-(

Star Trek did it (1)

skovnymfe (1671822) | about a year ago | (#44181465)

Engineer information into the genome of the most resilient of creatures on the planet, so even if we all die out and our DVDs corrode and disappear, something of us survives.

Re:Star Trek did it (2)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#44181609)

Unless the genetic information is being actively selected for in some way, random errors and natural selection pressure will quicky weed it out. The Star Trek episode scenario, while being quite cool, doesn't make sense, biology-wise.

Re:Star Trek did it (1)

SecurityGuy (217807) | about a year ago | (#44181815)

And here I was, about to tease you for saying something doesn't make sense while your sig refers to a bible verse. Not wanting to look a total fool, I looked it up first.

Well played. Very well played.

Re:Star Trek did it (4, Funny)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#44181921)

about to tease you for saying something doesn't make sense

Why doesn't it make sense?

while your sig refers to a bible verse

These Bible quotes are all the rage! I didn't want to be left behind.

Already Been Invented: Fired Ceramic Tablets (1)

cervesaebraciator (2352888) | about a year ago | (#44181471)

Low storage capacity but you can't beat their lifespan.

Re:Already Been Invented: Fired Ceramic Tablets (4, Interesting)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#44181665)

Please note that they weren't fired, originally. They didn't have that much fuel in Mesopotamia to fire everything they wanted. Ironically, many of the preserved tablets come from libraries that burned down in random fires. These events stopped being celebrated by archaeologists after Middle Easterners switched to other writing materials around 100 CE.

Re:Already Been Invented: Fired Ceramic Tablets (1)

Darinbob (1142669) | about a year ago | (#44182101)

Also note that many of these tablets were junk. They were intended to be temporary and erasable but managed to survive anyway. Se we get boring lists from scripts, like details of market transactions. The future may end up being a lot like Canticle for Leibowitz.

Re:Already Been Invented: Fired Ceramic Tablets (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44181739)

You can beat their lifespan. Copy it onto 1,000,000 tablets, split them into groups of 100, put them in cube-sats, and launch them into graveyard orbits or at Lagrange points. When they get there, don't touch them.

Re:Already Been Invented: Fired Ceramic Tablets (2)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about a year ago | (#44181851)

I think that's a good place to start, but more detail is always interesting:

I would start with a Rosetta Stone, specifically designed to explain as much of the language and text as possible. Included in those would be directions, both in terms of location and recovery procedures, to a much larger collection of paper documents stored in sealed casks of an inert gas to prevent degradation. From there it would be possible to at least describe the basic procedures and formats needed to read much, much denser long term storage options, I thought I remember reading about modified DVDs that would be stable across centuries.

You can either assume that the discoverers will reinvent basic electronics, or, if you have the capacity in your paper archive, lay out a plan that would get them there. If you assume say early 1800's level tech for example, would it be possible to bootstrap them to reading data from a DVD using only printed word? Could you describe the materials, designs, manufacturing techniques necessary? Would they even care enough to try to follow the directions? If you can get them that far you could have petabytes of data stored and ready for use... but that's a big if.

Re:Already Been Invented: Fired Ceramic Tablets (1)

Darinbob (1142669) | about a year ago | (#44182067)

You also need the method to decode the tablets. Ie, a Rosetta Stone type of mechanism. Provide multiple languages, hints on the algorithms used, diagrams on how to interpret the data, and so on.

useless without infrastructure (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | about a year ago | (#44181473)

Say a cataclysm wipes out major cities, centers of learning, large chunks of the population, etc. but that you managed to preserve the exact DNA and RNA sequences of a lab rat. Without the machinery to use the data, and indeed without the entire medical industry to provide materiel for research using that knowledge, what does it really buy you? Or you preserve the technical schematics of the Tokamak reactor. When you're burning firewood for heat because the entire fossil fuel delivery aparatus is destroyed, who cares?

There's a degree of materials and available resources which would be available after a 'cataclysm' - the knowledge you'd need after that probably boils back down to the early industrial revolution.

Re:useless without infrastructure (4, Interesting)

HappyHead (11389) | about a year ago | (#44181903)

While that's true to some extent, it doesn't mean that knowledge shouldn't be preserved in a format that would be accessible by a recovering civilization. Just because they don't have electricity now, doesn't mean they never will, and a handy guidebook telling them how those things work will speed things up later.

It does mean though, that the information should be prioritized - there's a T-shirt/poster floating around the internet full of "things to take credit for discovering if you go back in time". Most of the items it lists are either critical discoveries that led directly to improvements in quality of life, or were the basis for other technologies. Pasteurization, antibiotics, electric generation, radio, flight, and more. (It's here [geekologie.com] by the way.)

A guide like that is a good start - build things up in stages, add in more (useful) detail, never assuming that the reader will already have a tool unless it has already been explained how to make it. Then if you want to go hog-wild, after you've reached the part explaining how to make a computer and digitize information, put the stuff that would require a heavily industrialized civilization into a digitized code format and explain how it's encoded, so they can read it when they're ready/able to use it.

Random data being used for research though, is likely totally useless. Not only is the DNA/RNA sequence from that rat likely to be useless to a recovering civilization, depending on what sort of cataclysm happened, the DNA/RNA of a rat may not even match what was recorded. Leave stuff like that to DNA/Seed banks, unless it's part of an explanation of "what DNA/RNA is", and even then, the whole set is pointless. (Also probably patented.) A Tokamak reactor may not be useful to a low tech civilization, but with the boost provided by being taught how to make hydro-electric generators, lights, heaters, radios, and internal combustion engines (they can run on cheaply made alcohol, they're just less efficient that way, and wear out faster.), they might be able to make use of that information in only a few generations.

The real problem of course, is format, and ensuring that not only does the information survive, but that these future people are able to understand it when they do see it, rather than thinking "Oh, pretty metal plates with squiggles on them. I bet I could melt those down and make a great set of knives out of them."

Re:useless without infrastructure (2)

bonehead (6382) | about a year ago | (#44181943)

The data may not be useful immediately, but presumably society would begin rebuilding at some point.

It may be a long time before the information is useful, but once that time arrived, it would save a great deal of wheel re-invention.

History repeats... (2)

ElitistWhiner (79961) | about a year ago | (#44181477)

Rosetta, stone tablets, parchment scrolls and other works which have survived destruction only by obscurity, sleight and secrecy which instructs that the methods are not as important as the means to which you secure knowledge for posterity.

A Canticle... (5, Interesting)

MeepMeep (111932) | about a year ago | (#44181485)

Re:A Canticle... (2)

rainer_d (115765) | about a year ago | (#44181585)

Yes, religion is the only way:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Interference_Task_Force [wikipedia.org]
Gives a new meaning to the word "high-priest of technology"...

Pound pastrami, can kraut, six bagels (1)

Thud457 (234763) | about a year ago | (#44182061)

real men just upload their important stuff on ftp, and let the rest of the world mirror it

If they had only followed St L's directions, they would have recreated a civilized society.
But who's Emma, and where is her home?

Barriers to Entry (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44181495)

Bury it at the center of the moon. No one can destroy it then (or they could, if they have money to land on the moon). If civilization collapses again, all we have to do is reinvent space travel to get the knowledge of American Idol for our post-apocalyptic descendants. We can be assured as it goes down they will scrap the space and science programs first, so it will remain untouched.

Re:Barriers to Entry (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44181969)

If civilization collapses again, all we have to do is reinvent space travel to get the knowledge of American Idol for our post-apocalyptic descendants

So if our post-apocalyptic descendents finally recover civilization and space travel, you want to destroy them again? Wow, talk about bitter! What did they ever do to you?

simple: encyclopedias (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44181507)

Old style paper encyclopedias probably with low acid paper that documents most important stuff, lots of copies spread around, low tech, and can be accessed with limited technology.

If a tree falls in the forest (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44181519)

If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one around to hear it... does it make a sound?

Whats the use of preserving humanity if there are no humans around to "be human"

Re:If a tree falls in the forest (1)

amorsen (7485) | about a year ago | (#44181659)

Whats the use of preserving humanity if there are no humans around to "be human"

What is the use of doing anything which will only be useful after you are dead? Humans are sentimental creatures. Most people like to believe that something of value will survive, even if everyone dies.

End-of-the-universe theories are a bit depressing currently, but at least they get regular revision. Even black holes leave ways of figuring out what was lost inside them, in theory.

Re:If a tree falls in the forest (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44182013)

Some scenarios for "collapse of civilization" do not involve the complete extinction of the human race.

Make a landmark not easily destroyed.. (2)

blahplusplus (757119) | about a year ago | (#44181535)

... store knowledge within.

One wonders what would could be saved if things like pyramids and tombs are used to save a cubic ass tonne of knowledge.

Re:Make a landmark not easily destroyed.. (4, Funny)

g0bshiTe (596213) | about a year ago | (#44181655)

a cubic ass tonne

It's always about goatse with you people.

Re:Make a landmark not easily destroyed.. (2)

wbr1 (2538558) | about a year ago | (#44181669)

I prefer a rounded tonne of ass, thank you. It is more shapely.

Re:Make a landmark not easily destroyed.. (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year ago | (#44181869)

... store knowledge within.

One wonders what would could be saved if things like pyramids and tombs are used to save a cubic ass tonne of knowledge.

Remember that virtually every nontrivial monument/tomb site that we know about was plundered, often pretty quickly after it was built, sometimes several times. If you want to preserve something, it either has to be so valuable that the succeeding civilization continues coddling it, or so worthless that it doesn't get melted down for scrap(unfortunately, given that people will scrape and reuse parchment [wikipedia.org] and use mummies for fuel, the bar for this is pretty low indeed).

Re:Make a landmark not easily destroyed.. (1)

westlake (615356) | about a year ago | (#44181967)

One wonders what would could be saved if things like pyramids and tombs are used to save a cubic ass tonne of knowledge.

Tombs are raided.

Language is not a constant (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44181543)

Even if you could record something that survives more or less until the Earth is rendered lifeless due to solar expansion, you cannot guarantee any future intelligence would be able to understand it. The world's oldest civilizations had it right 40,000 years ago: images only, underground, worked in stone not exposed to weathering processes.

Rosetta Project/Long Now (5, Informative)

joshv (13017) | about a year ago | (#44181545)

Check out the Rosetta Project - http://rosettaproject.org/about/ [rosettaproject.org]

Re:Rosetta Project/Long Now (4, Informative)

Areyoukiddingme (1289470) | about a year ago | (#44181875)

A project of the Long Now Foundation [longnow.org] , who don't just think about what to do about long term preservation as an academic exercise. They actually do something about it. With money. (Still not very much money though.)

Check out their purely mechanical multi-millennial clock project too.

Re:Rosetta Project/Long Now (1)

Wayne2 (2972009) | about a year ago | (#44182183)

Thank you. This is exactly the kind of response I was hoping for. I wonder if they or others have plans for archiving additional non-linguistic information. I will keep searching.

Off-site backups (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44181547)

Self-sustaining civilizations on Mars, Europa, and extra-solar planets.

What about paper (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44181553)

Well, velum has proved itself to last around a thousand years and papyrus a few thousand, both have survived the rise and fall of various empires - both also have the benefit of being easily readable. So paper looks like the most proven and accessible solution in modern times...

Re:What about paper (1)

g0bshiTe (596213) | about a year ago | (#44181685)

This assumes post modern humans have the intelligence to be able to read and don't burn it for warmth.

Re:What about paper (1)

anagama (611277) | about a year ago | (#44181785)

Paper with print, and especially paper with pictures, is much more likely to be recognized as means of conveying information from a dead civilization than would corroded aluminum platters, discs of floppy plastic, spools of plastic ribbon, little rectangular plastic doohickeys attached to a corroded key chain, or little boxes full of various green cards covered with a spiderweb of corroded metal, even smaller black chips and maybe a few bulging capacitors here and there.

Make lots of them. (4, Insightful)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a year ago | (#44181563)

If you're planning for the fall and rise of civilisation, you need to prepare for the possibility of deliberate destruction - it's possible that a future civilisation might be so sickened by the actions of the past they seek to destroy all their works, or a religion might emerge which considers your documents heretical and in need of destruction, or perhaps a king feels that his people are living in the shadow of legendary greatness and only by destroying the legend will their story be honored.

So you're going to need to mass-produce whatever storage media you choose - make them by the millions and put them all over the world. In museums, in caves, burried or sunk offshore (Add a big chunk of iron, ready for when the metal detector is reinvented), as many as you can. So many it'd be impossible to destroy them all.

As for the actual storage medium? Tiny etchings on iridium would work. It's corrosion-resistant, and very, very hard wearing. It's last for millenia with ease, even in burried in moist soil or scoured by desert sand, and with such a high melting point it'd be untouched even if the containing building burned down. The only issue is the price: That stuff is expensive. Really expensive. It's cheaper than gold, but not by much.

The best way period (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44181571)

Stone tablets. Period. Look at how long all the ones we've studied so far have lasted.

See the Long Now Foundation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44181575)

How do you tell people 10,000 years from now about a theory of operations, maintenance and repair? They have some innovative ideas.

of course ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44181581)

https://en.wikipedia.org/ [wikipedia.org]

Repeatedly gained and lost knowledge? (3, Insightful)

brit74 (831798) | about a year ago | (#44181587)

I'm not sure that I can really think of good examples of this happening - at least not on a global scale. Sure, there was a regression in Europe after the Greeks and Romans. There were quite a few works lost. And it seems that there was a very early civilization around India that was abandoned (apparently due to crop failures). But the main protection for lost knowledge seems to be to spread knowledge around the world. The world has never simultaneously regressed (the Middle East and China weren't doing so bad during the European dark ages). The works of the Greeks wouldn't have been lost if their writings had larger distribution (instead of being confined to a relatively small area, which makes the fate of those earlier works dependent on the local conditions). As long as people keep writing and reading books, I don't see how much knowledge is going to be lost. There wasn't even much knowledge lost in Europe during the Black Plague - and that killed off 1/3rd of the people in Europe.

Perhaps the concern over "lost knowledge" says a lot about people's perception that some massive apocalyse is going to happen. I think, in general, people tend to grab onto ideas about "apocalypse" (which necessarily results in some massive social rearrangement) because they're not happy with the state of the world. Apocalyptic thinking is a little bit of a fantasy about starting over.

Re:Repeatedly gained and lost knowledge? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44181681)

What if there is a massive solar storm that wipes out the electrical grid on a global scale? To get to the point you could even rebuild it would take years if not decades, and in the meantime, you're dealing with starvation, illness, war, etc.

Re:Repeatedly gained and lost knowledge? (1)

Muros (1167213) | about a year ago | (#44181957)

The electrical grid is essentially a big pile of copper. Solar storms might knock out transformers and such, but the bulk of the infrastructure would be unaffected. You wouldn't need to rebuild, just repair the delicate parts. It could be time consuming, but not unmanageable. With modern sun monitoring, we would probably know about any really big storms and just shut down the grid, so that we'd only have to worry about what harm comes from inducted currents. Electronic equipment might be a different story.

Re:Repeatedly gained and lost knowledge? (1)

spiffmastercow (1001386) | about a year ago | (#44181725)

Perhaps the concern over "lost knowledge" says a lot about people's perception that some massive apocalyse is going to happen.

As the span of time reaches infinity the probability of a global catastrophic event approaches 1. It *will* happen eventually.

Probability fail (1)

Okian Warrior (537106) | about a year ago | (#44182025)

As the span of time reaches infinity the probability of a global catastrophic event approaches 1. It *will* happen eventually.

This assumes a fixed probability over all time.

If the probability lowers over time, then the cumulative probability can be bounded to any chosen value.

Consider: is the probability of world-wide plague higher or lower than it was 300 years ago? The probability of large-scale crop failures? Nuclear war?

You could say that the probabilities are higher in each case, yet the historical statistical evidence shows that the number and severity of wars has decreased, plague vectors have been detected and averted (SARS, Bird flu), and crop productivity has skyrocketed beyond all projected yields.

Statistically speaking, we're much more secure in our civilization simply because we are more aware of our surroundings, are smarter, and have more technology to apply to problems.

We're even beginning to discuss and proposing solutions to asteroid impacts.

The probability of a global catastrophic event is decreasing. If it hasn't happened yet, it'll become ever less likely in the future.

Re:Repeatedly gained and lost knowledge? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44182099)

Of course it will, but with some luck earth wont be our only place to live by then. He is still right with what he said, spread knowledge as far and wide as possible and it will mostly survive. I do think the only knowledge worth spreading would be real scientific fact. Just think about those small games back when you were young where you had to whisper a sentence from person to person, getting it all distorted in the end. Only things that can be verified would actually survive being passed from person to person, Religion and culture probably will not survive that long, certainly their actual intention may be lost even if the books and so on describing it are not. Just look at how many different groups interpret the bible in different ways. The stories themselves may survive intact but the meaning behind the stories will not. Math will, scientific fact will.

Re:Repeatedly gained and lost knowledge? (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year ago | (#44182089)

I think, in general, people tend to grab onto ideas about "apocalypse" (which necessarily results in some massive social rearrangement) because they're not happy with the state of the world. Apocalyptic thinking is a little bit of a fantasy about starting over.

I know someone who definitely matches this.

Books (3, Interesting)

pcjunky (517872) | about a year ago | (#44181601)

Books. It worked before, it should work again.

The electronic preservation angle was my wife's thesis.

http://explorer.cyberstreet.com/CET4970H-Peterson-Thesis.pdf [cyberstreet.com]

Re:Books (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44181729)

Libraries have been deliberately destroyed before (notably Alexandria), and today's equivalent of libraries will be destroyed again.

Solved problem (1)

mbone (558574) | about a year ago | (#44181613)

May I commend to you incised letters on stone [wikipedia.org] ? This has a long history of working, at least for human notions of permanent. You can go to places like Egypt , and bring back inscriptions [wikipedia.org] from 3000+ years ago which you can read without trouble (well, at least if you know the language, which is another problem).

As far true permanence, and surviving things like the decay of protons in 10^35 years, you are on your own.

You mean like this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44181631)

There are a few projects along these lines:
http://rosettaproject.org

Religion proofing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44181635)

Since people also have this tendency to go on an old fashioned knowledge destruction spree, anything short of a sattelite that can drop some emergency decoders/receivers down (in intervals) until a "rock is civilised" signal can be sent back seems error prone.

nsa (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44181643)

they are on it....

books (1)

chemosh6969 (632048) | about a year ago | (#44181645)

it's book. not ebooks because none of those will work anymore along with people that buying streaming rights to stuff

"more permanent" (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | about a year ago | (#44181651)

Seriously? "Permanent" is kind of a binary thing.

“The only thing that never changes is that everything changes.”
-- Louis L'Amour

'permenant preservation' (1)

oneiros27 (46144) | about a year ago | (#44182071)

You'd be surprised.

At a meeting a couple of years back, I was talking to someone that I think was the head of the British Library (I remember 'head of' and 'British' even though he was an American) We talked about some of my work in trying to come up with definitions that different communities can agree on, and he said that he had been at a meeting of archivists and they were having trouble defining 'permenant preservation'.

He said they came up with a definition that was effectively 'make sure we can understand it tomorrow, then do the same thing tomorrow'

Collapse of civilization is less not so common (1)

jellomizer (103300) | about a year ago | (#44181667)

Back in the ancient times civilizations had small centers of learning and education, where a good disaster could clear out civilization and they more or less need to start over. However now information is spread across the world. A super volcano kills the US. Europe and Asia still has most of our information and society will continue on, and vice versa.

A major super major disaster would probably send us back 70 years. And would probably take us 30 years to recover.
We as people know about the internal combustion engine, transistors, optics... And could rebuild with our experience. Back in ancient times average joe knew how to make fire, the wheel and farming techniques. So a civilization was killed off, they didn't go have to reinvent the wheel, they already know how to make it. However in ancient times a small number of people understood mathematics, science, and reading, so it could get killed off and needed to be rediscovered. Not so much anymore today.

We are currently looking at our petty issues of today such as Bad economy and not having enough money for Food, Housing, BlueRay Player and an iPad, and having to pay for Cable too. So we are a bit depressed, people are protesting the government about stuff that governments tend to always do. And global warming creates more weather disasters that hit small areas. What is the East Coast compared to the rest of the world.

So if you want to be prepared for a collapse in civilization, think what they had in the 1940's

Not an obviously tractable problem: (2)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year ago | (#44181671)

Barring the development of a strong-AI level pedagogical expert system that can be stashed away somewhere, the task of actually preserving the present state of human knowledge in the absence of the background is pretty difficult.

Mere storage is actually the easy part: Even clay tablets have a modest survival rate when you burn the civilization that inscribed them down on top of them, and with modern materials and machine tools, we could mass produce something better(or really, really, really mass produce something cheaper, and distribute it all over the world).

The trouble comes once you start dealing with knowledge that exists largely in the form of continually-refreshed human capital, and with tools that exist largely in the form of a long chain of worse tools building better tools building better tools, etc. The amount of pure written knowledge you would need to restart/rebuild all the supporting industry to refill, say, a totally undistinguished hardware store, would be considerable, quite probably more than actually is written down(rather than learned on the job by the new guy from the old guy, and fabricated on tools that were built with parts fabricated with tools that go back to the early 20th century if not earlier).

You also run into encoding problems. "Graecum est; non legitur", and that was the allegedly educated class in a civilization that probably had some greek speakers available(and it'd hardly been a global thermonuclear holocaust that ended classical civilization). You'd need to choose some human languages, and god help you with the digital file formats...

Batman and Long Now (1)

Hotawa Hawk-eye (976755) | about a year ago | (#44181677)

In one of the episodes of the animated series The Batman, future archaeologists unearth the Batcave and find information etched in binary on the titanium support pillars. [wikipedia.org]

Alternately, I wonder what projects the Long Now Foundation [wikipedia.org] has in the works to do something like this. The Wikipedia page lists the Rosetta project but there may be something else for general knowledge.

What you want is DNA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44181683)

DNA has a link to the past for many millions of years, is very robust and there is many many copies on site and off site.

In our DNA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44181687)

The most secure way to preserve information is inside ourselves.

So, find a way to create "trash DNA" that don't generate proteins or any other changes, do it with huge redundancy (the same information in parts repeated sometimes, so mutations could be tolerated in a great degree), and we carry this information by generations, without risk of destroy the recipient of information, because it'd be on us.

Impossible (1)

Going_Digital (1485615) | about a year ago | (#44181691)

It is quite simply impossible to preserve something for ever. What ever format you use to store the information assumes that the people in the future will be able to read it. Lets for example imagine that in the event of a catastrophic event that some civilisation other than America are the ones that service. Perhaps for example it is an obscure eskimo tribe that survives and it takes them two centuries to re-colonise the world to the point where they will discover your data left in America. How will they understand the English that has been written and even if they can translate it, what meaning will it have to them, the world might be a very different place by then. language changes so fast just try reading some Olde English from the 17th Century and see how you get on. We largely have translations of old languages like Ancient Greek and Hebrew used in the Bible as there has been an evolution of the language and so it has been possible to study the way the language has changed and work backwards, but translation is not an exact science hence why there are still disagreements over the exact translation of the bible to this day, hence the essence of you message may be lost. The best we can hope for is for institutions such as archives and libraries will continue to preserve information for the future and that enough of our civilisation survives to pass the information into the future. Hoping of corse that some religious nutters don't don't destroy it all like the Christians did with the library in Alexandria because the material didn't fit with their ideals.

Deadman switch courier ships (5, Interesting)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about a year ago | (#44181703)

Periodically send up long distance spacecraft loaded with not just data but the means to view it and the means to rebuild from first principles, assuming a child was viewing it - here is how you find iron deposits, mine and refine them, this is how you forge ploughs, these are the basics of algebra. Have them programmed to circle around somewhere just inside Jupiter's orbit, and have multiple stations here on earth sending out a deadman signal - when they stop broadcasting, the vessels begin to return in waves seperated by ten years or so, with the last waves arriving once a century.

When they make it home, have them attempt to locate likely inhabited areas whether by thermal imaging looking for fires at night or just vegetation profiling for fields, then drop down nearby, broadcasting light and sound, even radio, until someone comes to investigate.

It's relatively easy to permanently preserve all of mankind's knowledge, just pack it in a rocket and send it Oort-cloud bound. Well permanently as in astronomical timescales. The trick is to preserve all of humanity's knowledge in a way that's useful to humanity in the future.

Easy! Create a Foundation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44181719)

Create a Foundation to preserve all knowledge [wikipedia.org]

Solved by the NSA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44181731)

Ahh no sweat there the NSA surely thought about a solution to store all the data forever ;)

Next you'll be telling us you believe in stars. (1)

uCallHimDrJ0NES (2546640) | about a year ago | (#44181743)

Listen, man. The suns will always be out. There is no "night". Your theories about former civilizations with knowledge are insane.

Try Internet Search (1)

multimediavt (965608) | about a year ago | (#44181747)

Alternatively, are we, as a species, willing to start over if we experience a catastrophe, pandemic, etc. of significant magnitude on a global scale that derails our progress and sends us back to the dark ages or worse?

Willing? Like we have control over the cosmos and would choose to hit ourselves with an asteroid, or get decimated by a plague? First thing is to set expectations on "permanent", because in reality...there is no such thing. The Earth, the Sun, even the universe has an expiration date. In order to even begin to narrow the types of materials needed you would need to define the duration of "permanent" before you went anywhere. I couldn't dig it up but I seem to remember an article online about something like this. Using thin diamond sheets to encode information into or the like that would be able to survive hundreds if not thousands of years intact if locked away like the seed vault [wikipedia.org] . If I find it I will reply to this if someone else hasn't posted it elsewhere in the thread.

national geographic (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44181779)

It's very simple. Anything you want to preserve forever, publish it in National Geographic. It will be printed 30 million times, distributed across the world, and stored permanently in people's basements. Losing it permanently requires losing all of those basements.

Seriously? No ones heard of Bitcoin? (1)

SinisterEVIL (2661381) | about a year ago | (#44181793)

Bitcoin is the perfect solution for decentralized knowledge preservation.

Georgia Guidestones (1)

Misagon (1135) | about a year ago | (#44181831)

This topic reminds me of the Georgia Guidestones [guidestones.us] .
They are a monument of granite stones that contain ten simple "guidelines" for future civilisations.
The guidelines are repeated in eight different languages: each language having a face of each of the four main stones.

Re:Georgia Guidestones (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44181915)

Nice, nothing like an endorsement of eugenics to give future generations the right idea.

Equivalent question & Corollary (1)

NEDHead (1651195) | about a year ago | (#44181835)

This is the same as asking what information & how to preserve it for a generational starship. While en route there would be limited need for much of the accumulated knowledge, but once established as a distant colony, that would change.

Corollary would be: what is the minimum population required to maintain the diverse productive capacity that feeds our standard of living (both #'s of diverse producers and consumers to achieve satisfactory economies of scale) ( acknowledging that on demand production is coming) and product development improvements.

Don't worry about it, taken care of already (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44181865)

Don't worry about it, shove everything to the cloud, the govement keeps a copy forever.

Microfiche (1)

jbolden (176878) | about a year ago | (#44181889)

Microfiche lasts about 5x as long as paper and is 98x more efficient space wise. It can be read with a magnifying glass and a light source.

That's going to be hard to beat.

Re:Microfiche (1)

kannibal_klown (531544) | about a year ago | (#44181963)

I always loved microfiche... I thought it was cool. Back when my middle school wasn't very big on PC's we had loads and loads of microfiche that we could print out and stuff.

But, it does have some disadvantages. Heat and humidity can distort the image, and eventually damage the film by either distortion or fungus.

However I don't know what the threshold temperatures are.

Rocks (2)

boristdog (133725) | about a year ago | (#44181925)

I regularly carve pictures and patterns into various rocks around my property. I often wonder what future scientists will think of them. And now I wonder if someone will try to construct something meaningful in the crap I leave around my ranch...

Kevlar Punchcards (1)

stox (131684) | about a year ago | (#44182015)

Durable, easy to read.

Rebuild civilization with what ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44182031)

- "Alternatively, are we, as a species, willing to start over if we experience a catastrophe, pandemic, etc. of significant magnitude on a global scale that derails our progress and sends us back to the dark ages or worse?"

After we're done with our resources, with what dou you want to rebuild ?

We're already facing major shortages of non-renewable metals and ores in the next 50 years.

After we're done with this planet, there won't be enough left to rebuild a civilization.

microprinting on long lasting material (1)

peter303 (12292) | about a year ago | (#44182075)

Tint printed letters old plates (Holy Joseph Smith!) or some ceramic. This presumes the technology of hand lenses will be remembered or reinvented. I've seen a number of essays on this topic, especially since the invention of computers. this was commonly suggested. we've learned to decode the lost scripts of forgotten languages, e.g. Egyption, cuneifomr, assuming we have enough text.

It depends a bit on the question you ask. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44182077)

Preserve stuff for a long time? If long enough, either there'll be nobody left to read, or they can't read at all, or they now speak some other language and it's all academic anyway. Possibly. So not that interesting.

As to whether we want to start over after a catastrophe, well, either we do, or we get to live like, nay, we'll be like cavemen again. That or we simply die off. Take your pick.

There's been various projects, like long information storage, or the basic few machines to start a farm, or whatnot. You can also look at what the Amish do, or other subsistence farmers. Another interesting thing is what's called the "appropriate technology" idea and movement. An euphemism to patronise the developing world again, so it's ultimately not going to work, no matter how good the technological ideas or the intentions. Meanwhile, the ideas are interesting in and of themselves.

There's also the "living history" and bushcraft people. They have some interesting tricks to share.

My angle was that of the following question: You're left with any knowledge you've cared to've gathered beforehand. No limit on how much you can take (as a first approximation). But you can't have anything else.

Nothing. No clothes, no guns, not even knives. Anything beyond the knowledge you must make, and that includes making the tools to make the tools to make the tools. Now build up the tech base again, to at least, arbitrarily, 19th century.

What knowledge do you need for that? Go and work it out and maybe make a dependency chart. You're allowed to take shortcuts from what history did, but it has to be doable from scratch.

How you'd preserve that knowledge is another project entirely. But you need a base line to inform just what you need to store and how to store it--if your intended audience can't read it, it's useless. So I'd take a relative short term view and update as time moves on.

Short answer: yes. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44182085)

Sapphire disks, Rosetta project, building structures in tectonicly stable areas.
All these things have been considered.

We as a species don't have a will.
Individuals have a will, and they don't generally care what will happen 1000s of years in the future.

The Long Now Foundation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44182107)

I believe Danny Hillis has pondered these thoughts...

http://longnow.org/

durable media or frequent copying (2)

peter303 (12292) | about a year ago | (#44182139)

Most of the books from classical times were passed down by copying them periodically. Very few original texts from that era, save on stone. Generally educational classic or important religious works were worth copying.

It'll be hiding... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44182167)

It'll be hiding in the NSA Salt Mines no?

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