Feeds

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

Big data? More like big problems for our grandchildren

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

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. ®

Security for virtualized datacentres

More from The Register

next story
New 'Cosmos' browser surfs the net by TXT alone
No data plan? No WiFi? No worries ... except sluggish download speed
iOS 8 release: WebGL now runs everywhere. Hurrah for 3D graphics!
HTML 5's pretty neat ... when your browser supports it
Mathematica hits the Web
Wolfram embraces the cloud, promies private cloud cut of its number-cruncher
Mozilla shutters Labs, tells nobody it's been dead for five months
Staffer's blog reveals all as projects languish on GitHub
'People have forgotten just how late the first iPhone arrived ...'
Plus: 'Google's IDEALISM is an injudicious justification for inappropriate biz practices'
SUSE Linux owner Attachmate gobbled by Micro Focus for $2.3bn
Merger will lead to mainframe and COBOL powerhouse
iOS 8 Healthkit gets a bug SO Apple KILLS it. That's real healthcare!
Not fit for purpose on day of launch, says Cupertino
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.