Feeds

Internet pioneer Vint Cerf predicts the future, fears Word-DOCALYPSE

Big data? More like big problems for our grandchildren

The Power of One Brief: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

Big data may turn out to be a big mystery to future generations, godfather of the internet Vint Cerf has warned.

The pioneering computer scientist, who helped design the TCP/IP protocol (along with Robert Kahn) before going on to work as chief internet evangelist for Google, has claimed that spreadsheets, documents and various collections of data will be unreadable by future generations.

In an interview on Monday, Cerf illustrated the problem by discussing how his up-to-date version of Microsoft Word can't read Powerpoint files created in 1997.

"I'm not blaming Microsoft," he said. "What I'm saying is that backward compatibility is very hard to preserve over very long periods of time."

Discussing scientists who are now busily gathering massive amounts of data, he warned that unless the data recording techniques of their projects is preserved by using metadata, the information will be useless to future boffins. The problem is compounded if the research is carried out and recorded by private companies, which may go bust with the loss of all information about their methodology.

"If you don't preserve all the extra metadata, you won't know what the data means. So years from now, when you have a new theory, you won't be able to go back and look at the older data," he continued.

"We won't lose the disk, but we may lose the ability to understand the disk."

He spoke of the need for a "digital vellum that will preserve not only the bits, but a way of interpreting them as well," referring to the ancient practice of using animal skin to produce durable books or documents.

Cerf also contrasted the problems of modern data storage with the example of Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin, who visited more than 100 libraries whilst writing a book called Team of Rivals about President Lincoln and his government.

There is hope, however.

"It may be that the cloud computing environment will help a lot. It may be able to emulate older hardware on which we can run operating systems and applications," Cerf added in his chat to Computerworld. ®

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

More from The Register

next story
Secure microkernel that uses maths to be 'bug free' goes open source
Hacker-repelling, drone-protecting code will soon be yours to tweak as you see fit
KDE releases ice-cream coloured Plasma 5 just in time for summer
Melty but refreshing - popular rival to Mint's Cinnamon's still a work in progress
NO MORE ALL CAPS and other pleasures of Visual Studio 14
Unpicking a packed preview that breaks down ASP.NET
Cheer up, Nokia fans. It can start making mobes again in 18 months
The real winner of the Nokia sale is *drumroll* ... Nokia
Put down that Oracle database patch: It could cost $23,000 per CPU
On-by-default INMEMORY tech a boon for developers ... as long as they can afford it
Another day, another Firefox: Version 31 is upon us ALREADY
Web devs, Mozilla really wants you to like this one
Google shows off new Chrome OS look
Athena springs full-grown from Chromium project's head
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable
Learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.