Uncertain future of Digitized Documents

“SAN DIEGO — In a sprawling talk that ranged from the preservation of digitized documents to the future of cursive handwriting, Internet pioneer Vint Cerf and Bruce Cole of the Ethics and Public Policy Center were optimistic about the future of technology, yet wary of it.

Invited to deliver the annual John R. Adams Lecture in Humanities at San Diego State University last week, the duo’s talk transcended academics and raised concerns for anyone who has ever stored a family album or manuscript on a computer.

‘We have evidence that a photograph can last 150 years,” Cerf said in an interview before the Tuesday lecture. “We do not have any evidence that any digitized objects can last 150 years.’

The two had never given a talk together before, and Cerf said he immediately thought of inviting his friend Cole to join him after he received an invitation from SDSU to speak on the topic, the future of the humanities in a digital age.

‘My reaction was, “We need to do a duet,”‘ Cerf said.

‘We’re ready to take this show on the road,’ said Cole, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Policy Center and the longest-standing chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Cerf, whose job title at Google is vice president and chief Internet evangelist, is responsible for enabling technologies and applications on the Internet and other platforms for the company. As a co-designer of the basic communication language of the Internet and a key player in the technology’s early days while at the U.S. Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, Cerf has been called the father of the Internet.

Looking ahead, Cerf said he has some concerns about the trend of digitizing documents, photos and music.

Cerf said that while he doesn’t pretend to be an expert in humanities, he’s a lover of books with a focus on electronics and is concerned that some works may be lost in a future digital dark age.

‘This great effort to digitize everything, including Google’s efforts to digitize books, has a downside, which is the possibility that the digital media will not survive,’ he said.”

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