Looking back, we see that key aspects of human culture disappear in the course of time. Cultural breaks which can be identified as information breaks occur at every period of mankind. Even in the period of hominization you see bottlenecks or even disappearance of DNA transfer.
In part catastrophes played a role, in part documents – texts, pieces of art, buildings, etc. – have been destroyed, decayed or got lost. Nowadays we also see that changes in human values and moral concepts in course of theological or political changes can destroy archeological sites as well as libraries. Actually the preservation of climate data is a topic for US universities, which was not foreseeable five years ago!
We actually see that our culture can easily be subject to similar disruption processes, and products of our culture can disappear. A lot of information will get lost and what will remain is a largely matter of coincidence.
The Human Document intends to make sure that key aspects of contemporary culture can remain for very long time. Current ways of data storage are unsuitable for long-term or even medium time span storage. In particular, high density data storage is designed to reliably preserve the data for 10 years only. However, we now see the technologies emerging are capable of storing information in high density for enormous time scales.
There cannot be much doubt that the way we live is not maintained in a sustainable way in the longer run. A major or even a minor change of our culture must therefore be expected which affects information transfer in any way. This might come about by a slow decay or by a collapse. In either case, a big part of us will be forgotten.
In the worst case of a human or global catastrophe, perhaps as a consequence of the climate change induced by our release of CO2 in the atmosphere, perhaps by the imminent increase of glaciation, the Human Document can be seen as a gift for those who have to start over again.
The project deals with all aspects that are relevant: Its contents, the system, the technology, the material of the data carrier, protection of the storage media, coding and encoding. It is a multidisciplinary project in which virtually all sciences and arts have to contribute with interesting technological challenges. It will present the state of art in long-term archiving as well as the present problems in preservation of information and scientific data in archives and libraries. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is that, since all conceivable systems are finite but can be quite large, a choice on the contents has to be made. This requires thinking of the human condition: Who we are, what we are and what do we find worth to preserve.