Google VP Warns All Memory of 21st Century May Be Lost

We could lose the ability to interpret digital data as software progresses and leaves old ways of coding data behind.

Google VP Warns All Memory of 21st Century May Be Lost

Vint Cerf, a vice president at Google and one of the father's of the internet, warned that our collective memory of the 21st century could be lost forever if digital content — from spreadsheets and text documents to family photos and home videos — becomes unrecognizable as a result of software's inexorable progression.


Presented at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Cerf's warning about a "digital Dark Age" seems counterintuitive. Whereas a photograph can burn and disappear forever, digital content is easily copied and can be stored in many locations with ease — in principle, digital content will exist forever. But we are not at risk of losing the data itself, according to Cerf. Rather we could lose the ability to interpret the data as software progresses and leaves old ways of coding data behind.

As programmer Clay Johnson explains in his Big Think interview, code writers now play an indispensable role in preserving human culture:

"I think it’s time for software developers to really step up and understand that their role in society is actually pretty vital. Our definition of literacy is rapidly changing. ... We have a new form of digital literacy, and 30 years from now someone saying 'I'm not a computer person' or 'I'm not a technology person' will be the equivalent of someone today saying 'I don’t know how to read.'"

U.S. Navy controls inventions that claim to change "fabric of reality"

Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.

U.S. Navy ships

Credit: Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
  • Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
  • While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
Keep reading Show less

The misguided history of female anatomy

From "mutilated males" to "wandering wombs," dodgy science affects how we view the female body still today.

Credit: Hà Nguyễn via Unsplash
Sex & Relationships
  • The history of medicine and biology often has been embarrassingly wrong when it comes to female anatomy and was surprisingly resistant to progress.
  • Aristotle and the ancient Greeks are much to blame for the mistaken notion of women as cold, passive, and little more than a "mutilated man."
  • Thanks to this dubious science, and the likes of Sigmund Freud, we live today with a legacy that judges women according to antiquated biology and psychology.
Keep reading Show less

Why do holidays feel like they're over before they even start?

People tend to reflexively assume that fun events – like vacations – will go by really quickly.

Mind & Brain

For many people, summer vacation can't come soon enough – especially for the half of Americans who canceled their summer plans last year due to the pandemic.

Keep reading Show less
Strange Maps

Android has won the phone world war

A global survey shows the majority of countries favor Android over iPhone.

Quantcast