Most of you have ventured forward into the digital age. Instead of great binders filled with aging photographs you have digital pictures stored on some kind of computer or phone. Many of you will also copy those files off to a thumb drive or other form of removable media for safe keeping. Some of you even realize that thumb drive only protects you from computer failure, not burglary, fire, flood or other catastrophe in your dwelling. A token few of you will subscribe to some kind of cloud based automated backup system because they have come down in price and you really don't want to lose some things. Whatever method you choose, be it fire resistant safe, one of the methods mentioned already, or something else entirely, you do so because you believe you have some level of responsibility when it comes to preserving things you either need or cherish.
Who is responsible for backing up the human race? What should be backed up? How should it be preserved? Have any of you asked these questions?
There was a time, not all that long ago, when these questions were asked at very high levels. Before the United States government went off spending hideous amounts of money on pointless wars just to make a few people rich, scientists had funding and a plan. Not some super secret Area 51 type plan. Every one of us heard about it and very few thought about what it really was. The Lunar Colonization Plan wasn't just a bunch of scientific experiments. It was off-site backup for the human race. Before you go poo-hooing that statement, just remember, we had a mission to put a man on the moon and return him safely to earth not because the government needed to manufacture work for scientists, but because we needed a missile which could deliver a nuclear warhead to any spot on the planet.
Why was the American (and probably many other governments) looking to fund an off-planet colony? Human history. Oh, there will be many claims of many other things which have some level of validity, but that world history class we were all supposed to pay attention in is the real reason. Why do we have The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World? Put aside the debate about what should and should not be on the list and ask yourself why there is anything to put on the list in the first place? The answer is simple. The human race repeatedly lost the skill and knowledge required to create such things. The human race has been rebooted many times and each time we started from scratch or pretty close to it.
Off-site backup of the human race is coming to the forefront of conversations once again. You might have heard about plans for a Mars colony with a completion date some time in the 2030s. There has also been the success of National Geographic's Doomsday Preppers show. Unless you've been completely tuned out of all news for the past year, you had to have heard about the 2014 Ebola Outbreak and the global panic which followed. You might have forgotten when reputable news organizations ran articles linking The Black Death to an Ebola like virus some years before, but all of those conversations have resurfaced.
Even if humans don't wipe each other out with a war or cost cutting at a corporation which lets some viral weapon loose, the planet will reboot us. Some natural disaster, be it disease, flood, ice age or some volcano which belches and blocks out the sun for a year, the human race will be rebooted as it has so many times before.
Not long ago I visited the Evergreen Air & Space Museum and viewed a decommissioned launch center. It was nostalgic for me, having spent over 20 years in software development and consulting.
It is rather scary to think what if all the knowledge of the human race were stored on equipment like this?
People today are all enamored with their phones, the Internet and storing things in “the cloud.” What happens when some disaster takes out the global electrical infrastructure while it is busy removing most humans from the planet? A hospital full of doctors and nurses will be of little use if we no longer have the ability to make even a bottle of aspirin.
The International Space Station isn't really a solution. Yes, we can pack it with disk drives and other forms of storage, but that is much like making a copy of something on a thumb drive. It needs everything in place on Earth in order to be of any use.
Until we really do get off-site backup for the human race in the form of a self sustaining colony on some other rock in space, we have to solve the “what to back up” and “how to preserve it” questions. We are talking about preservation of the basic knowledge of the human species divorced from religion and creed. Containers which can survive fire, flood and all manner of disaster which have copies of this knowledge need to be scattered around the planet. The information needs to be stored in such a way that a person who never learned to read, or never learned the language the information is written in, can quickly bring themselves up to a 4th Grade reading level. All other information such as the making of simple tools, mining of ores, smelting of metal, making of basic medicines, husbandry of the land, etc. must be written at that 4th Grade level without any words or terms which are beyond that 4th Grade reading level.
In my recent book, John Smith – Last Known Survivor of the Microsoft Wars, one statement by John Smith seems to be striking a chord with readers: “Beginnings, no matter how important they are, get forgotten.” The Great Pyramids of Giza are a mystery for a very simple reason. Cutting and transporting huge stones was such a common skill nobody wrote it down on something which survives today.
Roland Hughes is an IT consultant, technical writer, and award winning author. He is the creator and author of the trademarked book series The Minimum You Need to Know as well as several novels. When he isn't busy at a client site he enjoys helping out on the family farm in the Midwest. He does not “do” Twitter or Facebook. He does periodically update his blog though.