Laura Welcher, Ph.D. (Director of Operations and The Long Now Library at The Long Now Foundation)

Participants in the Human Document Project have variously been exploring a variety of cutting-edge materials and methods for the long-term archiving of information. It is hoped that one or more of these methods could ultimately serve to store an artifact of humanity for the Human Document Project. In this talk, I will discuss current work on one of these long-term archiving efforts, The Rosetta Project, which is being developed by The Long Now Foundation.

The Rosetta Project is an attempt to store documentation about the world’s nearly 7,000 languages in a format that can last and be readable for thousands of years. This long-term archive, called “The Rosetta Disk,” contains thousands of pages of parallel language texts and vocabulary microscopically formed on a thin disk of nickel. The Rosetta Disk can be read, like a book, with optical magnification of 1,000x. It is intended to be a future artifact that, like the original Rosetta Stone, could unlock information we leave to the future in the medium of our human languages.

I will discuss several aspects of long-term archiving that ultimately contribute to the success (or failure) of this long-term communicative act. These involve the mode (human language), the medium (stone, clay, paper, hard disk, cloud, DNA as well as the encodings those media require), the message (content stored in the archive), and ultimately the meaning—the information, knowledge, or wisdom one is attempting to communicate to the future. I will argue that of all of these, one of the most difficult problems to solve in long-term archiving is how to communicate meaning over the very long-term.