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Vint Cerf fears Internet data loss

Need a way to save information

The Father of the Internet Vint Cerf said that he fears much of the data created since 1983 will be lost to time. Digital information contained in spreadsheets, documents, presentations as well as mountains of scientific data won't be readable in the years and centuries ahead, he warned.

Cerf said that his Microsoft Office 2011 cannot read a 1997 PowerPoint file because the format has changed. Cerf, who is Google's vice president and chief Internet evangelist said that it was not Microsoft’s fault it was just that backward compatibility is very hard to preserve over very long periods of time. The data objects are only meaningful if the application software is available to interpret them, Cerf said. While it is possible that disks might not be lost, the ability to understand them might be.

The scientific community collects large amounts of data from simulations and instrument readings. But unless the metadata survives, which will tell under what conditions the data was collected, how the instruments were calibrated, and the correct interpretation of units, the information may be lost.

Cerf said that what is needed is a "digital vellum," a means as durable and long-lasting as the material that has successfully preserved written content for more than 1,000 years.

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