Portsmouth researchers are part of a bold rescue plan to recover and safeguard the rapidly vanishing technology and cultural information from the generation born and brought up in the digital age.
They are helping build the world’s first general purpose ‘emulator,’ a piece of software which can recognise and play or open all previous types of computer files, from 1970s Space Invaders games to three-inch floppy discs.
Computer historians Dr David Anderson and Dr Janet Delve and computer games expert Dan Pinchbeck at the University of Portsmouth are partners in the €4.02m Europe-wide KEEP (Keeping Emulation Environments Portable) project. They hope to ‘rescue’ and protect text, sound and image files, multimedia documents, websites, databases and video games from a black hole.
Mr Pinchbeck said: “Games particularly tend not to be archived because they are seen as disposable, pulp cultural artefacts, but they represent a really important part of our recent cultural history.”
Every year a vast amount of new digital information is created – it has been estimated that in 2010 this will be equivalent to 18 million times the information contained in all the books ever written – and the rate of growth shows no sign of slowing.
Dr Delve said: “People don’t think twice about saving files digitally – from snapshots taken on a camera phone to national or regional archives. But digital files risk being either lost by degrading or by the technology used to ‘read’ it disappearing altogether. Former generations have left a rich supply of books, letters and documents which tell us who they were, how they lived and what they discovered. There’s a very real risk that we could bequeath a blank spot in history.”
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