Data to last a lifetime

Cellulose-based index may hold the key to the survival of search in the “digital dark age”, researchers say.

Note: This was published April 1, 2018

Controversy over Google and Facebook data breaches have led researchers and an angry public to ask new questions about the seeming depth and permanence of our digital records.

Yet that very sense of permanence might be a mirage, claim some scientists.

Warning of a “digital dark age,” researchers have noted that physical and digital disintegration threaten the very foundations of our information ecosystem.

Fast-acting researchers at Funnelback are fighting back with a new solution that integrates the best of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the human spirit to preserve valuable client indices -- the core of the search experience.

In a January 2018 radio interview, Kari Kraus at the University of Maryland described her project to restore digital data from the plague of digital disruption. “We worked a lot with magnetic media like floppy disks and those only have a lifespan of, say, 10 to 14 years. Optical media like DVDs and CD-ROM, I believe have even less.” The physical media itself was degrading, losing valuable data in turn. “It is going to be a problem across different storage media,” she said ruefully, looking out across banks of tape storage.

Indeed, both physical and digital threats to data are of growing concern to researchers and scientists worldwide. Retrieving information stored in a lost format “is similar to trying to read a message written in a lost language: To read it back, you need a translator, but this is impossible if there is no one left who can decipher the words,” according to Lauren J. Young.

To alleviate the threat, Funnelback researchers dedicated countless minutes of research to the task.

“Consider Beowulf,” noted Nico Guillaumin. “The English may be archaic, the material old. But the message itself is clear.” Supporting the team of English majors, Egyptologists provided insight into methods of papyrus preparation for long-term storage.

With the research phase behind them, the Funnelback R&D team turned to development.

“The papyrus was the key,” Guillaumin declares. “It showed us the way.”

Working with a team of letterpress experts near Pike Place Market in Seattle, researchers developed a means to hold customer data indefinitely. Sophisticated machine learning algorithms identified a cellulose-based biological material that, when mixed at an appropriate temperature with a unique chemical mash, pressed, and dried, formed a papyrus-like material ready to hold a printed index.

The team was able to assemble the final product concept within hours.

“We’re calling this a ‘paper index’. Properly maintained, it could last centuries longer than traditional tape storage or CD-ROMs,” Guillaumin proudly states on his proposal.

Teammates eagerly noted progress on a possible management tool to make better use of a vast printed index. “We’ll call it a card catalog.”

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