A couple of my favorite science fiction stories involve ancient repositories of data that have fallen into disuse.
For example, toward the end of Foundation and Empire in Isaac Asimov’s classic Foundation Series, our heroes go to the now mostly abandoned world of Trantor, which is described as being the closest habitable planet to the center of the Milky Way. At the height of its influence, Trantor was essentially one colossal city — an enormous metropolis (an ecumenopolis) — that stretched deep underground and was home to a population of 45 billion human inhabitants. In addition to housing the Imperial Palace and the Emperor, Trantor’s function was to administer and rule the millions of inhabited worlds and the quadrillions of people that formed the Galactic Empire.
One of the prominent features of Trantor was the Library of Trantor (variously referred to as the Imperial Library, the University of Trantor Library, and the Galactic Library), in which “librarians were tasked with indexing the entirety of human knowledge by walking up to a different computer terminal every day and resuming where the previous librarian left off.”
Our heroes visit the now long-abandoned library in search of… but I will say no more because I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone who has not yet read this classic. If you do decide to indulge, then may I recommend starting with the original trilogy, and only then reading the prequels and sequels.
The point is that I have spent more time than is good for me imagining exploring the hundreds of levels, each occupying multiple square miles, of this library.
Another classic tale is A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge. The story starts with an expedition to a planet at the outer edge of the Milky Way investigating a five-billion-year-old data archive that offers the possibility of unimaginable riches. Unfortunately, they wake a dormant artificial superintelligence that sets out to take over all the races in the galaxy, “rewriting” their people to become its agents. Although this may sound exciting, all of this takes place in the 7-page prologue, after which the action really starts.
These meandering musings were triggered when my chum Jay Dowling sent me a link to an article on The Verge titled New Research Shows How Many Important Links on the Web Get Lost to Time. The main topic of this article is the concept of “link rot” (also called “link death,” “link breaking,” or “reference rot”), which is the phenomenon of hyperlinks tending over time to cease to point to their originally targeted file, web page, or server due to that resource being relocated to a new address or becoming permanently unavailable.
I’m sure that, like me, you see examples of this every day. In addition to being annoying, it also makes me feel sad that so many resources are “evaporating away” and being lost to time. Of course, there’s always the Wayback Machine, but you can’t use that for every broken link, or you’d never get anything done.
We can always impute entropy, but playing the blame game doesn’t really help. Now I feel sad. I’m thinking of Roy Batty’s Tears in Rain soliloquy in the Blade Runner movie when he says, “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.” I’m also thinking of the line “All we are is dust in the wind” from the song Dust in the Wind by the American progressive rock band Kansas (see also Is Dust in the Wind All We Are?).
Maybe my gloomy disposition is based on the fact that it’s Friday afternoon and it’s been a long week (I’ve had shorter months). I need cheering up, which is your cue to quickly post some cheery and/or consoling comments.