Persistent Information

Long ago there were secret societies. They inspired fear, paranoia and conspiracy theories. But in truth, what were they?

They were and are a means to ensure persistency of information. These secret societies had access to some very useful information and they wanted to profit from it and ensure that the information does not get lost. The only way to ensure that the information is profitably usable and is not lost was to form secret societies. From ancient times, very interesting information have been lost to mankind. The location of the ark of the covenant, holy grail, reading the scripts of Meluhha have all been lost to the ravages of time (Unless this information exists today in some secret society). The only way to discover them would be fortunate discovery by someone who understands its importance. This information could have been given to specific band of individuals (The Order of the Templar Knights in most conspiracy theories), to ensure that they survive. These mechanism is especially needed in times of chaos like the Crusades.

What is Persistent Information?
Any information is desirable to be persistent but there will be some subset of it that is more important to be persistent due to cultural, technological or some other reason. Thus the accurate description of life of Jesus Christ, apart from the Gospels, is not available. Whether this information was even noted down is in itself doubtful. For cultural reasons, this information has high degree of need to be persistent and free. Similarly, the location of all the nuclear stockpiles in the world (bombs, fissile material, depleted nuclear material) also has a very high need to be persistent. At the present moment, this information has to be secure for military reasons. But after a few decades, centuries, when these nationalistic reasons would no longer exist, it is highly likely that everyone will forget about these places and someone would stumble upon a nuclear missile silo somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Thus this location information needs to be protected now, kept persistent and perhaps acted upon sometime in the future when the time is right to ensure that the site is properly disposed off.
Similarly historic information which may be suppressed now due to political consideration should be disclosed in the future. Sometimes that future never comes and we are forever unable to know what actually happened. What really happened to the “Princes in the tower”? Who was the “Man in the iron mask”? Who killed JFK? We will perhaps never know the answer to these questions.

How can we keep Persistent Information?
With the advancement of technology it is believed that making information persistent should be very easy. “Just write a CD or a DVD and keep it in the Fort Knox!” you might say. But after 50 years or even 25 years, will we have any CD or DVD players to read the disks? How many of us have floppy drives on their new shiny machines now? All those important 1.44 MB of data that must be rotting away in some corner of your home is unusable now. What if in the future due to some catastrophic man made or natural disaster, we loose most of our high end technology? How will we read this data then? You may say, “Pfff! Big deal! Just write it down on a paper!” Yep, those accountants and scribes in all the lost civilizations must have thought that their language is going to last the many turns of the wheel of time.

We can classify PI into two types based on the target audience. The two types need different strategies for storage and retrieval. The first one is a human civilization much like ours. The second one is a new human civilization unlike the present one(or a post human civilization or an alien civilization). In the first case, we know that the culture (though considerably changed) would be similar to ours. Language would be similar and the context of the society would also be similar. In this case, making the message understandable is less of a problem than securing it and ensuring that it is used correctly. Encrypting the information is one way but over time the encryption can be broken (unless it is a true one time pad). Also the problem of secure storage and use of the key for encryption would also exhibit the same problem as that for the original information. Obfuscation of the information can be a way of securing the information. Storing the information in historically important documents as is portrayed in the The Da Vinci code (The novel took a lot of liberty with the truth). Knowing that the work of art that he was creating would last centuries is a huge leap of faith that Da Vinci apparently took. Forming a secret society, having elaborate initiation rituals to ensure only reliable people gets admitted to the society and then entrusting them with the secrets is perhaps an adjunct to storing the information in things which the authors believe would last through time.

In the second case, any reasonable persistent information needs to include ways to decipher it as well. In fact, persistent information can be considered to be like communicating with aliens. For example, Voyager Golden Records contains instructions on how to decode the message that it contains. A sort of metadata to understand the data. Similarly Arecibo Message makes use of universal constructs like atomic mass and numerals to communicate about humanity and planet earth. Although these techniques are mainly used for alien communication, sending a probe on a very large elliptical orbit or a decaying earth orbit as in the case of the proposed KEO probes.

Where do we stand now?
A concerted and perhaps a secret effort has to be undertaken (or perhaps it is already underway) to ensure that critical information does not get affected by the tides of time and are usable to the future generations or to those visitors who come in search of sentience in the Orion Arm of the Milky Way.
Organizations likes the Long Now Foundation can play a role in identifying critical information and finding ways to ensure that they last and perhaps help bring the human civilization back on its feet after some global disaster.

PS. John 8:32