Technology has been good to the pursuit of knowledge. Each advance, from cuneiform to computer chip, spurs us to push the limits of knowledge further. The benefits of the newest innovation — the digital — are obvious: more evidence. A lot more. The world’s largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), is expected to produce “up to one exabyte (10 to the 18th bytes) of data per day, roughly the amount handled by the entire Internet in 2000.” The radical reduction of barriers to reading and publishing online has resulted in an abundance of cultural expression in audio, video, textual, and numeric formats. The horizons of knowledge are receding not simply because we have more evidence. We also have powerful tools to analyze data at scale, see beyond the limits of human perception, and discern patterns invisible to the naked eye.
Thanks to an ever-expanding collective memory, we have become the dominant species on Earth — dangerously dominant. Yet paradoxically, in this age of digital abundance it is harder, not easier, to secure knowledge for future generations. Where will the astronomers of the SKA telescope store their exabytes of data? How much will future generations know about today’s online culture when the average webpage lasts just 100 days? We have relied on durable physical objects to carry knowledge across space and time. Among the oldest of memory technologies, cuneiforms date back 5,000 years and are still legible. You need expertise in Semitic languages, but you do not need a machine to read them. By contrast, digital data are ephemeral, easily overwritten, dependent upon hardware and software, decipherable only by machines.
Sourced through Scoop.it from: chronicle.com