by Joshua Kitchens
Advances in technology should not be looked as so much as forward progress, but as a series of more complicated things for use to preserve. This complicated reality that we as archivists will be facing. For just a moment, instead of considering the present or looking or backwards, let us look towards the bright and shiny tomorrow.
Quantum computing seems like a real thing. There were some doubts early on about whether or not the quantum computers that existed were real, but that sort of fits the whole definition of theoretical physics. Now it seems that qubits are the new bits. With Google and other tech companies leading the efforts to build machines that can calculate seemingly impossible things, and with speeds unheard of by today’s standards, say goodbye to simple 1’s and 0’s and hello to 1 and 0’s in superpositions and entangled, quantumly speaking. What kinds of records will these machines create? <Shrugs> It is impossible to know just yet, but they are coming, and we should be aware. Unfortunately, I doubt Al will be there to help us figure out where our leap into this new realm of computing has landed us.
Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality
Nothing quite gets my head spinning like thinking about how to deal with the inevitable virtual reality take over. While we may get to luxuriate in digital evergreen fields with elves, orcs, and cyberspace marines, I can only expect the enviable need to find a way to preserve these New Aged sprites, as I can only imagine that in the future a peace treaties will be worked out between a 7-foot-tall virtual anthropomorphic moose and an overly cute chibi panda. While further historians will debate the meaning of 🙂 in the third line of that treaty, we will need to understand the significant properties and other aspects that should be preserved and what could be said of the record qualities of these virtual spaces. What sorts of technological preservation will be required for these environments? Will we feel an overwhelming sense of dread as we appraise these records? Think about the headset graveyard!!! We should also consider augmented reality. Augmented reality poses a complex issue. What is the record, in this case: the Google Glass overlay onto the real world, or the data behind the overlay? I feel a bit like we are Morpheus searching for our Neo in this case. Will you be the One?
In many respects, video games could be included in any discussion of virtual worlds, but for now, let’s take Mario head on, or shall we say feet first. Like virtual reality, video games are complex digital objects, but in addition to a game with systems for rendering pixels and dynamic worlds, there is usually a rabid and supporting fan base. These are primarily cultural spaces, sometimes based on game, like World of Warcraft and Eve Online, and sometimes existing through forums and twitter hashtags. These groups introduce new language, like “ult” or ultimate. They debate issues going beyond the game environment. Problems range from ethics to Trans rights, to much more. So for video games, part of understanding the complex record that is a game, is the various communities that have been created around them.
Blockchain is the new buzz word on the internet and business these days. What started out as principally a vehicle and system for recording transactions of a currency unfettered from governmental controls has blossomed into a buzzword fueled explosion of… well, I’m not entirely sure. What I do know is that graphics cards are prohibitively expensive now, and Kodak has licensed its name to a bitcoin mining company. Kodak has also allowed its name to be used for a company that wants to use blockchains to help track image rights. This is quite a development. Some researchers, such as Hrvoje Stancic, are already thinking about the implications of blockchains for archives and information professionals. So get ready, you might need your hacker specs for this one.