Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Re: [Yasmin_discussions] Dragan critique of Re-collection

Hi Dragan,

Thanks for your thoughtful critique of Re-collection! It's clear that you took a big bite out of each chapter, even if some of them were harder to chew than others :)

You wrote that the chapter on biological mechanisms of preservation, entitled Variable Organisms, feels "far out." I hope you're right! Rick and I decided we wanted toward the end of the book to include toward the end of the book a peek over the horizon, on the assumption that future-proofing requires us to foresee problems before they arise--and in this case, brainstorm solutions as well.

Right now, cultural stewards are obsessed with "digital preservation," which for many archivists is as mundane as whether to store images as JPEGs or TIFFs and whether to trust local storage or the cloud. But assuming the information economy continues to grow in importance, a look at what's going on in cutting-edge scientific laboratories tells us silicon may not be the only--or indeed the primary--computational medium of the future. As mentioned in the chapter, scientists have already coaxed DNA to solve computer problems and store images and Shakespeare plays. Jeremy Rifkin says wetware will be the dominant medium of the 21st century, and if he's right we might at least imagine the implications for cultural heritage.

That said, your critique of the solutions offered in the chapter reveal a deep understanding of this issues raised by biological media. Your criticism of the phone that reads a human hair to access the Library of Congress is exactly right: there's no reason the smartphone would need a person's live hair rather than a "built-in" one. That said, I like the idea of an organic USB drive always within reach under my hat.

I'm not as convinced by your skepticism of evolving software to read word-processing documents. I'm sure software derived by genetic algorithms is currently no better than Word (and that's a pretty low standard in my book ;) But I wonder whether this method might gain traction in a future in which genetic processes drive more and more of the world's computation. Perhaps it's impossible, as you suggest, to write an algorithmic fitness function for complex human-readable documents. But even if deciding whether a Word document has been rendered correctly depends on humans, perhaps we could employ Mechanical Turk-style crowdsourcing to speed up the process?

> To stay inside the oral history metaphor, not the digital artifacts
> themselves should be encoded in a dance, but how to use them should.
I think this is a really intriguing thought. Could you give an example of how this might work?

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