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Beyond The Digital Delusion: A Case for Lossy Preservation

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Eiko Yoneki.

When a physical object is captured in digital form it is often thought that it can then be preserved forever without degradation. This is a form of a general misconception regarding the management of information that I call “The Digital Delusion.” What is true is that the digital representation of an object can be copied and moved with a high degree of reliability, and increasing medium densities allow ever greater amounts of data to be stored. A common inference is that arbitrary amounts of data can be preserved indefinitely with high accuracy. In this talk I explain why this conclusion does not follow, and examine the implications for long-term digital preservation.

Consider scalability trade-offs in data preservation: How much data can actually be preserved, for how long, with what accuracy and at what cost? Current approaches to large-scale long-term preservation assume that that accuracy can be maintained at a high enough level to be considered “lossless.” Archivists assume that digital objects will be preserved without corruption, and believe that exceptions will be rare enough for the resulting losses of information to be accepted or perhaps addressed after the fact. I will argue that resource constraints and organizational issues make the eventual loss of data unavoidable when preserved at scale, and that responsible archivists should deploy “lossy” approaches to preservation which are designed to be resilient to such corruption.

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This talk is part of the Computer Laboratory Systems Research Group Seminar series.

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