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Immortal Computing - Microsoft's 'House Records'

Immortal Computing is a Microsoft project to explore how digital information could be collected and preserved in such a way that future generations could easily access it.

A newly surfaced patent application has revealed Microsoft's interest in the idea. Most people who have owned personal computers are familiar with the basics of the problem. I have a box full of disks that I once used on a 128K Mac - and some more that I used with an Apple II+. I have no idea what is on those disks - I can't read them with my current computers. I have phonograph records in my house - but I can't play them. I think I might have some old Beta format video tapes - I can't play those either.

Companies have a version of this problem that is even worse. Just think of the variety of technologies used to store information: punch cards, punch tape, magnetic tape (of various formats) floppy disks and many more. The current pace of change makes this problem even more difficult; legacy systems are created every few years these days.

The Immortal Computing idea is to create some sort of system that would ensure that digital information could be saved in a readable, usable way for future generations. Companies certainly need this; it's possible that our civilization could use it, too. We might need some sort of "Rosetta Stone" to ensure that future generations could read and use the information and software we have now.

There is already some prior art on this problem. Bob Kahn, one of the original designers of the ARPANet, has created an online system called the Handle System. It assigns unique identifiers (rather than URLs) to find online information even if it has been moved.

Another approach is the Rosetta Project, an ambitious attempt to build a publicly accessible online archive of all documented human languages. At present, the archive contains 100,000 pages on 2,500 languages.

There is an interesting science fiction precursor as well. Frank Herbert wrote about this problem in an original way in his 1984 novel Heretics of Dune. In the novel, the Bene Gesserit is a secret society that kept records going back thousands of years.

The holoprojector flickered with its continuing production above the table top - more bits and pieces that she had summoned.

Taraza rather distrusted Archivists, which she knew was an ambivalent attitude because she recognized the underlying necessity for data. But Chapter House Records could only be viewed as a jungle of of abbreviations, special notations, coded insertions, and footnotes. Such material often required a Mentat for translation or, what was worse in times of extreme fatigue demanded that she delve into Other Memories. ...You could never consult Archival Records in a straightforward manner. Much of the interpretation that emerged from that source had to be accepted on the word of the ones who brought it or (hateful!) you had to rely on the mechanical search by the holosystem.
(Read more about Frank Herbert's house records)

Read more at Microsoft seeks patent on 'immortal computing' via Pasta and Vinegar.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 1/28/2007)

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