Menu
Scientific Advances
Natural compound speeds bone growth
Astronomers spy massive stars in the making
Frog gene map a leap forward for humans
Sun-shy mums may raise MS risk in babies
Soft fossils provide new target for ET search
Mammoth blood brought back to life
Outdoor exercise can boost self esteem
Athletes on growth hormone 'sprint faster'
Countdown begins to 520 day 'Mars mission'
Warmer planet to stress humans: study
Plasma rocket to shorten space voyages
Vaccine may trigger infant epilepsy onset
'Fingerprinting' points to dusty Australia
The hole in the ozone layer: 25 years on
Humans interbred with Neanderthals: analysis
Herschel shows star formation is slowing
Washing hands makes tough choices easier
'Face-book' to measure pain in mice
Science gives clues to World Cup success
Human sigh acts as a reset button
Expert confirms Phar Lap arsenic theory
Dictionary blunder a matter of gravity
Warning on high-dose vitamin D
Calling mum makes you feel better
'Digital genome' to protect dying data formats
European researchers have deposited a "digital genome" in a secret bunker deep in the Swiss Alps, to help future generations read data stored using defunct technology.

Accompanied by burly security guards in black uniforms, scientists this week carried a time capsule through a labyrinth of tunnels and five security zones to a vault near the slopes of chic ski resort Gstaad.

The sealed box containing the key to unpick defunct digital formats will be locked away for the next quarter of a century behind a 3.5-tonne door strong enough to resist nuclear attack at the data storage facility, known as the Swiss Fort Knox.

"Einstein's notebooks you can take down off the shelf and read them today. Roll forward 50 years and most of Stephen Hawking's notes will likely only be stored digitally and we might not be able to access them all," says the British Library's Dr Adam Farquhar, one of two computer scientists and archivists entrusted with transferring the capsule.

The capsule is the culmination of the four-year "Planets" project, which draws on the expertise of 16 European libraries, archives and research institutions, to preserve the world's digital assets as hardware and software is superseded at a blistering pace.

"The time capsule being deposited inside Swiss Fort Knox contains the digital equivalent of the genetic code of different data formats, a 'digital genome'," says the grey-bearded Farquhar, coordinator of the 15 million-euro (A$21 million) project.

"I can't even read my own dissertation anymore except in paper form, because we didn't have anything like this when I wrote it," he says.
Data growth

Around 100 GB of data - equivalent to 24 tonnes of books - has already been created for every single individual on the planet, ranging from holiday snaps to health records, say project organisers, adding this amounted to over 1 trillion CDs worth of data across the globe.

But as technological breakthroughs help people to live longer, the lifespan of technology gets shorter, meaning the European Union alone loses digital information worth at least 3 billion euros (A$4billion) every year, they say.

Studies suggest common data storage formats like CDs and DVDs only last 20 years, while digital file formats have a life expectancy of just 5-7 years - hardware even less.

"Unlike hieroglyphics carved in stone or ink on parchment, digital data has a shelf life of years not millennia," says Professor Andreas Rauber, from the University of Technology of Vienna, which is a partner in the project.

"Failure to implement adequate digital preservation measures now could cost us billions in the future," says Rauber, adding that the project has made open-use software available online to enable people to decipher data stored in defunct formats.
Software and operating systems

Farquhar says without supporting software and compatible operating systems, knowing what is on a disc, let alone reading the files will be impossible.

The project hopes to preserve "data DNA", the information and tools to access and read historical digital material and prevent digital memory loss into the next century.

"If we can nail the next 100 years, we figure we will be able to nail the next 100 years as well," says Farquhar.

This could have uses for countless different organisations, from pharmaceutical companies trying to access test data decades from now or aerospace companies checking design details of planes built to fly for 30 or 40 years.

People will be puzzled at what they find when they open the time capsule, says Rauber.

"In 25 years people will be astonished to see how little time must pass to render data carriers unusable because they break or because you don't have the devices anymore," he says.

"The second shock will probably be what fraction of the objects we can't use or access in 25 years and that's hard to predict."

Print
Climate change impact on malaria questioned
Single lens glasses can help prevent falls
Movies manipulate our primal response
Luminescent sharks become invisible
Synthetic biology research gets a hearing
Source of ancient carbon 'burp' detected
Why the goddess of love is in a spin
Computer program recognises online sarcasm
New dinosaur had record-sized horns
Physicists solve missing neutrino mystery
Milk from grass-fed cows may be better
Crabs caught spying on rivals' love claws
Lifestyle may not boost breast cancer gene risk
'Trade-off' gene for plants discovered
Pacific islands growing, not sinking
Caffeine addicts get no real perk
Velvet worm's deadly slime revealed
SpaceX cleared for Florida lift-off
Cyborg rights 'need debating now'
Sunlight shines on silver technology
Mountain biking as risky as football, diving
Dusty simulations may reveal planets
Legal fight over breast cancer gene
Unions call for urgent nano information
Solar panel attraction deadly for insects
Meat eaters munched many ways: study
Snakes may be in decline worldwide
Dogs dumbed down by domestication
Menu
Fossil sheds new light on 'dino-bird'
DNA 'spiderbot' is on the prowl
GM cotton use increases fruit pest problem
Warming to kill off a fifth of all lizards
Super massive black hole given the boot
Ball lightning could be 'all in the mind'
Immune system could be used to test for TB
Mobile phone cancer link unclear, study
Teen brain wired to take risks
Synchrotron probes Egyptian beads
Argonauts 'gulp' air to swim freely
Space station gets a new room
'Digital genome' to protect dying data formats
Sweep yields leads for new malaria drugs
Researchers snap signs of illegal fishing
Spectrum reveals supernova surprise
Scientists create synthetic life
Eavesdropping a waste of energy
Star caught eating its offspring
Megafauna die-off may have cooled planet
Hepatitis C no longer 'death sentence'
Atoms bring quantum computing closer
Visualisation staves off constant craving
Experts debate homeopathy funding