Saving for the future

New Scientist Technology Blog
23 January 2007
By Kurt Kleiner

I started keeping a journal in college, and in those pre-blog days I made do with an old manual typewriter, pounding out my angst-ridden musings onto cheap paper. Twenty years later, the pages are already yellow and crumbling, and probably won't last a generation beyond my death.

It will be no great loss to literature. But assuming other information is worth keeping, how do we hold onto it? Physical media inevitably deteriorates or gets lost, and file formats change.

Now, researchers at Microsoft are working on "immortal information" storage, a project that involves finding ways to record information so that it survives for many generations.

This might mean etching data onto a particularly sturdy surface. Then, someone could perhaps encode their entire life story digitally and keep it in his or her tombstone. When relatives show up for a visit, a holographic representation of Grandpa would pop up and begin to bore the grandchildren from beyond the grave.

Or, less spookily, the cornerstone of an important building might be etched with the original blueprints and a history of the building's designers.

Another idea is to introduce access controls. Grandpa could lock up some information until 50 years beyond his death: "Now it can be told -- your grandma was a real pain in the ass!"

The plan is revealed in a patent application that is long on cool ideas, but a little short on technical details. All the clever stuff would be done by a still-to-be-designed user interface. It's also not clear what format information would be used to write information in the first place.

Let's just hope they don't use Word.