Twenty-one trillion bytes of code are now sitting underneath the Arctic permafrost in an apocalypse-proof vault just in case civilization collapses within the next millennium (or perhaps sooner given the state of current affairs).
The project was recently completed by the code-hosting platform GitHub, which transferred over 21 terabytes of open-source data onto 186 reels of digital photosensitive archival film. According to a GitHub blog post, the reels of film were then sent over to Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean some 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) north of mainland Europe, and placed in the Arctic World Archive found deep in an abandoned coal mine 250 meters under the frozen permafrost. Here, it will remain safe at least 1,000 years.
GitHub is a platform used to archive and host source code used by software developers and programmers, much of which is open-source and freely available to use. Among their repository, you can find the coded blueprints used to create all kinds of technologies, from fundamental operating systems to complex machine learning programs — useful stuff to know if you’re having to restart society from scratch.
The data is stored on piqlFilm, a super-durable medium that can be read with a computer. However, the vault also contains a reel of human-readable film too, just in case the necessary technology is not available in the future.
"Reading, decoding, and uncompressing this data will require considerable computation itself. In theory, it could be done without computers, but it would be very tedious and difficult," Github explains in a guide to the GitHub Code Vault.
“Our expectation is that you didn’t need our definitions of software, computer, and other terms. We imagine you have computers of your own, probably vastly more advanced than ours, and possibly fundamentally differently architected. However, it’s possible that you have inferior computers to ours, or even no computers at all. In case of that eventuality, we have prepared an uncompressed, unencoded, human-readable reel of data which we call the Tech Tree.”
The goal of the Arctic Code Vault is to ensure that “the world's most irreplaceable digital memories of art, culture, and literature” are secured in the event of an existential threat to humanity, whether that’s nuclear war, climate change, or (dare we say) a pandemic. The vault already contains a number of data deposits from the National Archives of Mexico and Brazil, the Vatican Library, the National Museum of Norway, the European Space Agency, the Museum of the Person, Alinari, and a number of other organizations.
Svalbard is an ideal location as it is well-connected to the wider world, yet remains geographical distant and sits in a neutral demilitarized location. The permafrost and weather conditions offer cold, dry long-term storage. It’s also home to Global Seed Vault, also known as the “Doomsday Vault,” used to safeguard the world’s seeds and flora.