Monday, August 6, 2007

Team Project Help Request

The next phase of ISU focuses on the team project. The team project I am working on is relating to creating a combination of a lunar archive and earth based repositories containing of information that would be useful for society in the event of worldwide disaster. We have named our project Phoenix.

Can you help me by providing references (Historical, Science Fiction, etc) where archives have been used? We already know about "A Canticle for Lebowitz" and "Earth Abides."

Also, if you know of any appropriate quotes, regarding survival, phoenixes, etc,?

If you have any ideas, please post your response in the comments.


Nobilis said...

The book "The Hiram Key" supposes that Stonehenge was a geometric repository of seasonal agricultural information, when properly decoded.

The Library of Alexandria was created more as a place to preserve knowledge than to disseminate it; it was a place to copy books, not to read them, for the most part.

Egyptians carved important things in stone, even though they had papyrus for day-to-day recordkeeping. The same is true of other cultures. To this day, "Carved in stone" means "kept the the same way forever"

A few ideas that immediately came to mind.

P.G. Holyfield said...

There is an Orson Scott Card novel called Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus.

In a future where humanity is close to extinction, Pastwatch is an academic organization that uses machines to see into the past and record it. Their project focuses on slavery and its dreadful effects, and gradually evolves into a study of Christopher Columbus.

At first they only use the machines to archive the past. Eventually they learn to actually enter the past and affect events.

Keith Glaeske said...

The Foundation series by Isaac Asimov begins with a group of scientists at Trantor, ostensibly to amass all human knowledge in an Encyclopedia Galactica (which is quoted throughout the series).

As for quotes about Phoenix--who can forget this quote from X-Men #101: "X-Men--no longer am I the woman you knew! I am fire and life incarnate! Now and forevermore I am the Phoenix!"

Martha Holloway said...

Phoenix is the Greco-ized version of the Ancient Egyptian bennu bird.

The bennu bird (apparently never a real bird) is associated with both the creation of the Universe and the immortality of the soul (the ba part). So, I think you have chosen well for your name.

I can't remember which one, but one of Anne McCafferey's Pern novels introduced an AI from a previous era to the less advanced descendants of the original colonists. The AI still had just enough power to run and teach people how to use it. A kind of archive but probably more advanced than what you will use.

Martha Holloway said...

Oh, and a quote:

"All I’m trying to do is not join my ancestral spirits just yet."

- Joshua Nkomo

Tom said...

Memory Alpha (Star Trek) is probably the best known outside the uber-geek community, since it gets several mentions in the series and the movies.

Also from Star Trek, the library on Yonada -- the generation ship in "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky" has all the knowledge of that culture in "the Oracle".

In both Joe Haldeman's "Worlds" trilogy and in John Varley's "Steel Beach" the central computing facilities off of Earth become the backup for all the knowledge on the home planet. In the case of the "Worlds" trilogy, nuclear war destroyed most of the organized knowledge on the planet, but there were expeditions to the surface to grab several key things, including information. In "Steel Beach" (and the related "Ophiuchi Hotline") the information on Earth was destroyed by the "Invaders", who disabled and destroyed technology on Earth, but left a thriving lunar colony untouched.

In the backstory to Niven & Pournelle's "A Mote in God's Eye", the whole planet of Sparta was set up as a backup for both knowledge and culture, including political systems. The impending collapse of the CoDominion made it likely that Earth would descend into a new Dark Age. Sparta would become the new political center for the Empire of Man.

I would argue that the "Ringworld" series contains the biggest backup: The Ringworld itself. The Pak Protectors set up the structure, with it's Maps of all the worlds of known space, a repository of information in the Repair Centers, and the collected homonid species on a structure that was capable of surviving the Core Explosion.

Most of the stories I can think of aren't so much deliberate backups as they are a mad scramble to capture as much information as possible during a culture collapse or extinction event. Which is consistent with most human behavior: How many times have you seen people trying to get data off a failed disk, rather than simply restoring a well-managed set of backups?


Tom said...

Also, if you look at the history of the Dark Ages in Europe, monastaries were the principal repositories of knowledge and centers of scholarship. A big part of the monastic life was media migration -- moving data to updated or replacement media while the data could still be recovered.

The Svalbard International Seed Vault is a current effort to preserve plant species for a future biodiversity collection. This is aimed a disasterproofing food crops, both against a sudden catastrophe and against the perhaps more probable slow crisis like a loss of diversity as the climate changes.

I recall somebody at NASA suggested a lunar-based library, possibly David McKay, using archives buried in lunar craters. There were a whole bunch of problems with it, including potential vacuum welding, dust, and a not-very-benign radiation environment.


Foster said...

Phoenix Project

Assumptions & Thoughts:
- It would be best to not confuse the future reader with multiple languages. Nor can we expect them to understand whichever one is selected.
- It might not be a good idea, for many reasons, to make all of the knowledge available at once. Should this be a random access library or a structured learning course? When do you explain gunpowder or nuclear fission? If our cataclysmic event were man-made, do we want to provide the recipe to repeat it?
- Historically, our development started with a "fresh" planet with abundant natural resources. Cataclysm's aside, that is no longer the case. Some scavenged resources might be more readily available than the raw materials from which they were made.


I suggest that the task be divided into 3 major areas: 1) Content, 2) Storage medium, 3) Access protocol.


A basic premise must be that you cannot know how much technology will have been lost after a cataclysmic event. As a practical matter, one must assume that you would be dealing with It follows that one would need to cover the complete, abet condensed, history of all basic science fields. Using metallurgy as an example, one would need to start with geology, the identification of raw ores, mining, the smelting process and the working of the metal.

Recording Medium

I can't think of any modern storage media in current use that could last for hundreds of years. Anything that required a complex reading device would have to have the device and it's power supply survive too. That would be asking a lot.
Historically, the only records that have survived for millennium have been: stone carvings, fired clay tablets/pots and ink on paper. All of these suffer from various levels of fragility and/or low information density.

My thinking would be metal plates with information laser burned into the surface. Gold comes to mind as the least reactive metal. The laser technique would allow varying the text size from that readable by the naked eye, down to that requiring increasing levels of magnification, but providing increasing levels of information density.
We should also assume that, at some point, they will have some sort of computer scanning device and will be able to read digitally encoded information.

Access Protocol

Our goal is to have the survivors find the cache, learn the language used (if needed), read the contents listing and start advancing from their current of technology. We would want to avoid the classic "Giving the monkey a loaded gun." scenario, as much as possible.
Even if stored in some strong vault, the tablets would logically be in protective cases. There must be some logical order to the material and some sort of language and usage guide.
If practical, it should be considered that the cases would have some sort of knowledge based, mechanical locking mechanism. This, in addition to the increasing level of technology needed to read the plates, would enforce the sequential and gradual exposure of the knowledge. Puzzle boxes comes to mind.

Tom Comeau said...

Foster reminded me:

In "Mote in God's Eye", the library used to restart civilization after each cycle fell was housed in a building sealed against casual visitors. The lock on the doors was really a test of tool-using ability.

So perhaps your archive should require the user to puzzle out a basic "language" before they can get in. Of course, being able to get to the moon suggests a basic level of tool-using ability. :-)