Google’s Vint Cerf warns of ‘digital Dark Age’ if we don’t find a way to preserve data

Could all of our documents really disappear in the cloud?


Imad Khan


Posted on Feb 14, 2015   Updated on May 29, 2021, 1:05 pm CDT

Vint Cerf, one of the fathers of the Internet, fears that one day there could be a digital Dark Age, in which we lose access to all information saved on computers. This could occur as hardware and software become obsolete.

The Internet pioneer, whose resume includes IBM, Stanford University, DARPA, and Google, made this statement while at the AAAS 2015 conference. Cerf warned that if we don’t find a standardized method to access information on obsolete hardware, the 21st century could be lost if a digital Dark Age does come to fruition.

Cerf told Pallab Ghosh from BBC News that “You and I are experiencing things like this. Old formats of documents that we’ve created or presentations may not be readable by the latest version of the software because backwards compatibility is not always guaranteed.”

Earlier this year, Polygon’s Dave Tach wrote a story on the remastering of Grim Fandango, a game released in 1998. The team tried to recover old bits of data on very out-of-date hardware, and attempted to track down digital linear tapes that were locked away in storage and DLT drives.

Cerf would like us to create a digital museum in the cloud, and figure out a detailed method to access old forms of hardware and software in case it becomes necessary.

“The key here is when you move those bits from one place to another, that you still know how to unpack them to correctly interpret the different parts,” he said. “That is all achievable if we standardise the descriptions.”

We’re pretty sure if you look in your attic, you may find some old floppy discs with no way of accessing that data. Cerf may be onto something here.

H/T BBC | Image via Joi Ito/Flickr (CC by 2.0)

Share this article
*First Published: Feb 14, 2015, 8:11 pm CST