Butler Lampson, Irwin Jacobs and Vint Cerf walked into a bar . . . .

Actually, they spoke at a symposium held at Google’s HQ sponsored by the American Academy for Arts and SciencesThe Public Good: The Impact of Information Technology on Society. (See the Stanford News Service report here.)

They mused on where technology would be in 20 years. One prediction: self-driving cars.

“In less than 20 years I think we’re definitely going to have…cars that drive themselves. I mean for real,” said Lampson. “This means you can read the paper while commuting.”

“What paper?” someone shouted. These guys still read daily printer papers? That is so-o last millennium.

Google-scale bit rot
More to the point was Vint Cerf talking about widespread data loss:

It’s the year 3000. You’ve just done a Google search and you turned up a 1997 PowerPoint file. You’re running Windows 3000,” he theorized. “The question is: Does it know how to interpret a thousand-year-old PowerPoint file? And the answer is probably no.”

If all of our generation’s technology is digital, and 1,000 years from now the current digital information is “rotten,” all of the information about our time period will be lost, he warned.

“By the year 2100 everyone will wonder about all of you and the beginnings of the 21st century because all the bits about you will be rotten and no one will be able to interpret them

The audience and Lampson disagreed, saying clever engineering could solve the problem. Engineers always think that.

The StorageMojo take
This isn’t so much about clever engineering as it is getting someone to do the scut work. Save all .ppt files as .pdf, for example.

But I like how both Vint and Butler implicitly assume that Google will be around in 1000 – or even 100 – years and will have that data preserved. That’s one prediction they didn’t even talk about.

Courteous comments welcome, of course. Let me know if Google posts a video of the event. I’d like to see it.