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Rosetta Disk Designed For 2,000 Years Archive 659

Hugh Pickens writes "Kevin Kelly has an interesting post about an archive designed with an estimated lifespan of 2,000 -10,000 years to serve future generations as a modern Rosetta Stone. The Rosetta disk contains analog 'human-readable' scans of scripts, text, and diagrams using nickel deposited on an etched silicon disk and includes 15,000 microetched pages of language documentation in 1,500 different languages, including versions of Genesis 1-3, a universal list of the words common for each language, and pronunciation guides. Produced by the Long Now Foundation, the plan is to replicate the disk promiscuously and distribute them around the world in nondescript locations so at least one will survive their 2,000-year lifespan. 'This is one of the most fascinating objects on earth,' says Oliver Wilke. 'If we found one of these things 2,000 years ago, with all the languages of the time, it would be among our most priceless artifacts. I feel a high responsibility for preserving it for future generations.'"
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Rosetta Disk Designed For 2,000 Years Archive

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  • by mbone ( 558574 ) on Monday August 25, 2008 @07:43AM (#24735003)

    This would be a logical thing to put into deep space - on the Moon or on Mars, say. It is a good environment to preserve things, and any future civilization is going to look up our space probes sooner or later.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 25, 2008 @07:43AM (#24735007)

    than carving it in stone

  • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Monday August 25, 2008 @07:49AM (#24735047) Journal

    Okay, so they include a 6x glas sphere. How nice, but you need a 500x microscope to read it. The sphere has a large base and it can be opened. Why not include the tool to read the document with the document?

    Who is to say that whoever finds it in the future has access to such a powerful microscope? For most of history we haven't.

    Nice idea, but geez, think things through, this could be found by the same kind of people who made the original rossate stone. Do you really want them to wait hundreds of years to develop magnifcation good enough to read it?

  • by mbone ( 558574 ) on Monday August 25, 2008 @07:57AM (#24735107)

    If they could get permission, it might also make sense to bury one of these in a waterproof enclosure at the Georgia Guidestones [] - the huge Monoliths in Georgia in 8 different languages.

  • Re:Pronounce what? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by txoof ( 553270 ) on Monday August 25, 2008 @07:58AM (#24735119) Homepage

    Any aliens that encounter our civilization may experience life in a completely incomprehensible way. For instance, they might not speak, but rather use some form of sign language or color language like squid. But, if they are a space faring race, and presumably interested in learning about other races, they'll have the necessary intelligence to make a go at learning what the disk means.

    You'd be amazed what you can tease out of a text, especially poetry. Because so much poetry depends on end rhyme, it's possible to not only figure out pronunciation, but also accent. We can be so precise as to narrow down the accent that Shakespeare wrote in by examining the songs in his plays. It's pretty freaking cool.

    But again, this all hinges on the premise that aliens can comprehend a spoken language, or even a written, symbolic language. If they can't, then of course this device won't work. Fortunately, future humans (if there are any) should be able to make some sense of this thing. It will be invaluable to future researchers. Lord knows, our land fills will be a wealth of information to any future archeologist.

  • by Selanit ( 192811 ) on Monday August 25, 2008 @08:02AM (#24735151)

    With the way things are going very soon the Bible will be the only book that's out of copyright....

    Some versions of the Bible are copyrighted. Any translation undertaken in the last eighty years or so.

    Oh, and in Britain the Authorized King James version is subject to Crown copyright, which is perpetual. It's never going to enter the public domain. Probably not even if the monarchy were to be abolished -- any British government which saw fit to abolish the monarchy would likely retain its privileges for the state. Not that it seems like the monarchy's going away any time soon.

  • Re:Pronounce what? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Muad'Dave ( 255648 ) on Monday August 25, 2008 @08:04AM (#24735175) Homepage
    Well, here's how I'd do it, cartoon-style
    1. In the first frame put an image of a tuning fork and a representative atom of iron. Have the disk itself next to the tuning fork to indicate that the tines should be the same length as the diameter of the disk they have in their [hot | cold | slimy ] alien hands.
    2. In the next picture, show the tuning fork being struck, and waves emanating from it.
    3. In the next frame, show the details of a single sine wave, and put lines marking one cycle of the wave and text that says the symbolic equivalent of '1 Hertz'.
    4. In the next frame, show the tuning fork vibrating again, with the symbols for whatever frequency the pure iron fork resonates at.
    5. Show the sine wave with an arbitrary integer max amplitude of 1000 and show it being sampled periodically, with the numbers being copied into a list.
    6. In the next frame, show a human with sound waves emanating from their mouth, and numbers flowing into a list.
    7. Put a list of numbers on the disk so that they can reconstruct a simple WAV-like file of human speech.
  • by Sophia Ricci ( 1337419 ) on Monday August 25, 2008 @08:05AM (#24735179)

    They're going to think we were cuckoo!

    If the future generations have not heard this already from some other source, chances are they have developed new language and won't make head or tail out of it.

  • by joshv ( 13017 ) on Monday August 25, 2008 @08:26AM (#24735327)

    To have any hope of surviving and being found in thousands of years, they need massive replication. Oh, I am sure they picked the best of materials, and they will last, but at $25,000 per, there just aren't going to be many of them left in 2,000 years because there weren't many of them made.

    I would favor a cheaper mass produced product. Maybe something that on average doesn't have much hope of lasting more than a few hundred years, but if you make millions of them and shill them on the home shopping network - maybe somebody will have a hope of finding one in the distance future perfectly preserved in a redneck's hermetically sealed grave.

    I'd suggest using something like a CD mastering process to stamp an analog message into a gold foil disk, that is then embedded in high quality, impact resistant glass. The glass seals against corrosion and moisture (if you are too cheap to go with the gold foil), and acts as a sacrificial surface that can take scratches bumps and dings and still be polished up by future archeologists.

  • No 2.000 years (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mseeger ( 40923 ) on Monday August 25, 2008 @08:27AM (#24735331)

    if you treat this disk the way the original rosetta stone has been treated, nobody will be able to decipher it afterwards. The only reason we were able the rosetta stone: The chars were relatively big. High information density and long lifetime (in any conditions) are contradictions....

    Yours, Martin

  • by Bazman ( 4849 ) on Monday August 25, 2008 @08:30AM (#24735355) Journal

    Ooh I just read down a bit further and discovered that yay, it does have it.

  • by dontPanik ( 1296779 ) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {smlesedn}> on Monday August 25, 2008 @08:39AM (#24735447)
    Well a lot of what we have from ancient Greek culture is religous material, and that shit is wack!
    Even so, no one goes around saying the Greeks were idiots.
  • by bcwright ( 871193 ) on Monday August 25, 2008 @08:55AM (#24735617)

    The Romans managed to preserve their language and culture for 2000 years completely by accident. Do you really think all the stuff we're doing today will vanish in the same time span.

    It wasn't completely by accident - many early Roman and Greek works were deliberately preserved in the monasteries. Compare for example what happened to ancient Carthaginian culture, which is approximately the same age and which was nearly exterminated: about all that we know about them was written by their opponents.

  • Re:Pfff (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 25, 2008 @09:12AM (#24735773)

    The point that you're missing entirely is that there is NO SUCH THING as a good person. Even your hypothetical "good atheist's" actions were tainted with self-righteousness. Better to be a sinner and know it than a pompous ass who thinks that he's perfect.

  • Space based storage (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Bones3D_mac ( 324952 ) on Monday August 25, 2008 @09:20AM (#24735829)

    Personally, I'd probably place the things into a number of satellites and keep them in orbit around the earth with just enough to keep the orbit from decaying. Then, tie the controls for maintaining the orbit to a series of earth based beacons. In the event that every beacon on earth fails, the satellites could then be instructed to enter into decaying orbits to seed the discs onto the earth's surface contained within a protective shell to prevent burning up on re-entry. This would increase the odds of the discs being found by keeping them closer to the earth's surface and their landing points would deform the surrounding land enough to warrant investigation.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 25, 2008 @09:31AM (#24735937)

    Might be close. Hard to date such old stuff, but Homer is usually dated from 9th to 6th century BCE, while Genesis was put together around the Babylonian Captivity (5th-4th Century BCE). Their sources are certainly older, as Genesis incorporates material from the Babylonian creation stories as well as older stories but not likely older than 10th century BCE, while Homer is based on oral sources dated at least from the 12th century BCE.

    Homer is at least as old as the Bible, and is a lot more neutral, and likely to survive for a long time yet.

  • by kabocox ( 199019 ) on Monday August 25, 2008 @09:39AM (#24736041)

    That's a ridiculous comparison. The bible is fictional.

    Oh if only it mainly was. The problem is that there is far too much factual info in there and well the fictional/scifi elements get drowned out. I've tried to explain to my wife that of course there are huge chucks of the bible that are very factual. Why? The Jews used it as their history/moral/everything a person needed to know book and it was fairly up to date at the time. So of course all the cities/villages mentioned are likely to have actually existed. I try to explain to her its like if some one or family had been keeping a family history since the founding of the US, well in 2000 in the future they could use that family history to locate the cities/towns that said family lived. That part could be mostly factual, but that still doesn't mean everything in the book is factual. You could have a fictional story happen in a realistic setting and that doesn't make the story factual. Though 2000 years latter, if they find the setting, they may assume parts/pieces of the story are true.

  • Re:Pfff (Score:2, Interesting)

    by silentben ( 1119141 ) on Monday August 25, 2008 @09:48AM (#24736153) Homepage

    Or as Douglas Adams put it: "one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change". Funny how near-sighted people can be - a man vilified in his own time can become symbol of hope (or fear depending on your branch of Christianity) for thousands of years afterward.

    We snicker at tribal societies for what they worship, yet are any of our "modern" religions any more sensible? Personally I choose none of the above (which is surprisingly hard with children - complex questions, family influences, etc.). But if I HAD to choose one, I think some of the classic mythologies were much more fun. Some pantheons had all the drama of a weekly TV show.

  • Re:Pfff (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 25, 2008 @10:32AM (#24736707)

    If you read any one of the four Gospels

    4? Oh yeah, that's right - the religious folks have only really bothered to keep around the gospels that suited their purpose. There were dozens of gospels, all from roughly the same era and time. Funny how only certain select ones are accepted.

  • by SilverJets ( 131916 ) on Monday August 25, 2008 @10:45AM (#24736933) Homepage

    That's a ridiculous comparison. The bible is fictional.

    Oh if only it mainly was. The problem is that there is far too much factual info in there and well the fictional/scifi elements get drowned out. I've tried to explain to my wife that of course there are huge chucks of the bible that are very factual.

    Given everything that is written in the bible, I would hardly describe the inclusion of the names of some towns and cities "huge chunks that are very factual". Everything else is just fantasy.

  • Re:Pfff (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JeanPaulBob ( 585149 ) on Monday August 25, 2008 @10:48AM (#24736985)

    It has been two thousand years since some girl claimed that she got knocked up by a burning bush rather then her boyfriend and millions of people worship her as a virgin.

    That's got to be one of the silliest critiques of Christianity that I've read. Even setting aside Protestant/Catholic/Orthodox questions of the veneration of Mary.

    People don't believe in Jesus because of Mary's claim that God made her pregnant. People believe in Jesus because of claims about his miracles & resurrection.

    If you're going to give the pseudoskeptic's treatment to the virgin birth, you're doing it all wrong. You should be doubting whether Mary ever claimed such a thing--you should be speculating that early Christians made up the story.

    But I realize that wouldn't make as effective an approach to junk rhetoric.

    Hmm... I guess you could throw in some half-informed claims about "mistranslation" of Isaiah 7:14, while you're at it.

  • by bcwright ( 871193 ) on Monday August 25, 2008 @10:51AM (#24737035)

    Try reading English from 300 years ago.

    Actually English from 300 years ago is quite readable by any educated modern reader (though cursive writing can be difficult because the longhand script has changed a couple of times since then). Think Shakespeare, for example.

    However if you start talking about English from, say, 600 years ago, it's quite a bit more difficult (Chaucer), and from over 1000 years ago it's impossible unless you're a specialist (Beowulf).

    Many other languages have evolved quite a bit in that amount of time, but a few haven't. For example, written (as opposed to spoken) Greek is much less changed over the last 2000 years than is English - classical Greek is to modern Greek more like Chaucer or Shakespeare is to modern English, rather than like the difference between Beowulf and modern English.

    So even though your specific example doesn't hold water, the general sense of what you're saying is quite valid - it's quite possible (even likely) that modern English will be nearly unintelligible in 2000 years.

  • by cliffski ( 65094 ) on Monday August 25, 2008 @11:43AM (#24737749) Homepage

    nonsense. You do realise it is up to the copyright holder what permissions they grant right?
    Not all copyright holders are cackling billionaire bastards.

    As an experiment pick a dozen living writers, email them and ask them if any of them object to granting permission for their books to be published on this project. I'd be amazed if every single one of them didn't say "hell yes".

    Don't tarnish the 99% of sane copyright holders with the stupidity of the noisy 1%.

  • Re:Pfff (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Bob Uhl ( 30977 ) <> on Monday August 25, 2008 @11:49AM (#24737827) Homepage

    It has been two thousand years since some girl claimed that she got knocked up by a burning bush rather then her boyfriend and millions of people worship her as a virgin.

    And her prospective husband, rather than divorce her as he desired, ate a bad meal, saw a vision and decided to marry her anyway and raise the kid.

    And a bunch of fishermen were persuaded by this kid, now-grown, to leave their steady jobs to wander around listening to him preach.

    And after he was executed, they decided that rather than head back to fishing that they'd continue the job, annoying the local powers-that-were to the point that they themselves were executed.

    Or...the girl was impregnated by God, her son was the Son of God, His miracles actually did convince a bunch of fishermen that He was on to something and so forth.

    Which is more difficult to believe? That guys like Saul of Tarsus decided, 'hey, I'm tired of stoning these Christians; I'm gonna become one instead!' or that they he actually received a vision? That ignorant Judean fishermen thought it better to be tortured to death than to enjoy an old age surrounded by their grandchildren, or that they actually believed what they preached first-hand knowledge of?

    Oh, and no mainstream Christians worship Mary. We venerate her, of course, since she is the Mother of God after all.

  • by SanityInAnarchy ( 655584 ) <> on Monday August 25, 2008 @11:50AM (#24737845) Journal

    Everything we know today developed in a society that was utterly permeated by the bible in every nook and cranny.

    That's pretty arrogant. Also very wrong.

    Plenty of what we know today came from the ancient Greeks, who predated the bible. And there are plenty of nooks in which the bible is not used -- despite your attempts to turn this country into a stealth theocracy, most of us still embrace the separation of church and state, and other religions do exist.

    Everything you are - your clothes, your food (clothes don't grow in the stores), your car, your very thoughts come from others, with a tiny drop of personal impact from yourself.

    I don't own a car, first of all.

    And I take responsibility for all of it, whatever my own influence is. I am aware enough to be able to make my own choices -- so if these things come from others, they come with my endorsement.

    If those people choose what economists call "Nash efficiency" as an ideology (what atheists do),

    It would help if you cited something specific -- all I can find on Nash Efficiency [] tells me it's a chunk of math, not an ideology.

    improving themselves without conscious regard to others (e.g. "piracy is not a crime")

    And as an atheist, I can tell you that you're dead wrong about that. What gave you the idea that atheists don't have conscious regard to others?

    For that matter, ask a pirate -- I don't think any will try to say it's not a crime. They might occasionally remind you that it's not piracy -- piracy is armed robbery on the high seas; this is copyright infringement -- and they might say that it's not immoral, or that copyright law needs to change.

    But I don't think anyone will claim it isn't a crime.

    However, if everyone around you (example ... your current employer and any other possible employer) behaved atheistically, improving primarily themselves without regard to others, you'd be out of a job,

    Unlikely. My current employer likes me as a person, and has more work than he can do himself, so there is plenty that I can do.

    What part of that requires belief in a mythical sky-god?

    (even the food would disappear from the local supermarket, as it will be more in the personal intrest of the owner to simply keep it himself). You'd die (even if you are said owner, because deliveries would stop).

    Disregarding for the moment your misguided assumptions about atheism, consider that owner -- as you said, deliveries would stop.

    So, even if the owner was the most horrible person imaginable, and didn't care at all about anyone but himself, he would keep selling food to you, because that way, deliveries continue -- and also, that way, he gets money to spend on some things he wants other than food.

    Before the vandals and visigoths started their massive immigration into the Roman Empire, life expectancy for a slave was around 60 years (this is 300-400 B.C. we're talking about). Once Rome fell, life expectancy of a king dropped to 30 years, and most people didn't live long enough to have children (life expectancy : about 10-15 years). That's what "bread and games" ultimately achieved.

    What's your evidence that "bread and games" was responsible for this, assuming the rest of your statistics are accurate?

    If you follow the Christian credo, and give to others (that are preferentially also Christians) without expecting anything in return,

    If you do that, you're a hypocrite -- you're giving to others and expecting faith in return.

    Why are they preferentially also Christians?

    And for what it's worth, what was included on the Rosetta Disk was the first few chapters of Genesis, which have absolutely nothing to do with "giving to others".

    Conversely, you are pretty damned arrogant (and ignorant) to think that Christians invented the concepts of charity, or morality in general -- or that they have a monopoly on these things today.

    In fact, you're pretty ignorant if you think this is what Christianity actually stands for. Where was your charity during the crusades? And where is your morality today, in the priests who rape little boys?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 25, 2008 @11:54AM (#24737889)

    What's interesting is that the Bible has survived 2000+ yrs not because it was written on "nickel ..." disc, but because it is something of value that was passed from generation to generation. My guess is that this disc won't last ten years because the content is not valuable/meaningful to anyone. It will simply be forgotten.

    The original text of the Bible was written in Greek and Hebrew. It has been translated into dozens of languages, by persons who are known to be meticulous about details. This makes the Bible a logical literary choice.

  • by DarthVain ( 724186 ) on Monday August 25, 2008 @12:21PM (#24738269)

    I know this is a joke, but seriously it makes more sense.

    Of course we are assuming that in 2000 years we will still have spaceflight and not be in some sort of virus zombie filled post apocalyptic mad max sort of existence.

    Generally speaking getting any physical object to last 2000 years is a tough sell, particularly if you are trying to protect tiny (microscopic even!) details. This is largely due to the fact that we have this pesky atmosphere and weather (and geology to a certain extent).

    On the moon however, there is none of those problems. The only problem would be getting something there, and likely it would be small size so you couldn't just place it anywhere otherwise someone might not find it.

    If you did select someplace that would generally not be overlooked, say the highest mountain or the biggest creator or something like that it would be probably found.

    Of course you would want to stop those 500 year doucebags from taking it, which would lend credibility to the idea of disbursing many copies all over the freaking' place, which given our current tech would be hard to do on the moon.

    Of course as a proof of concept you might design a satalite to orbit the moon, and eject a capsule at the moon ever so often.

    I guess to take this one step further, would be to design a spacecraft that has a sort of comet like orbit of earth and only comes around every 2000 years. Of course it would have to be a stable orbit that would not change even after the craft lost all power and just became an inert piece of junk with a large orbit.

  • by Sunshinerat ( 1114191 ) on Monday August 25, 2008 @01:18PM (#24739065)

    Taken from Roger Water; Amused to Death

    And when they found our shadows
    Groups 'round the TV sets
    They ran down every lead
    They repeated every test
    They checked out all the data in their lists
    And then the alien anthropologists
    Admitted they were still perplexed
    But on eliminating every other reason
    For our sad demise
    They logged the only explanation left
    This species has amused itself to death
    No tears to cry
    No feelings left
    This species has amused itself to death
    Amused itself to death

  • by Mr. Slippery ( 47854 ) <> on Monday August 25, 2008 @03:52PM (#24741325) Homepage

    And if it is significant, then why do you call its creator(s) and/or to whomever they transfered the ownership "assholes"?

    An artist, writer, or inventor can be an asshole and still produce, or be involved in the production of, a great work. Disney exploited his employees, and called the Screen Actors Guild a Communist front during the HUAC days; that doesn't make Fantasia any less great.

    Copyright is not ownership, calling it such falls into the mire of the "intellectual property" meme.

    The fact that a creator transfered copyright to someone tells you nothing about the recipient's assholery.

Things equal to nothing else are equal to each other.