GitHub, the online source code repository company that Microsoft bought last year, wants to future-proof the world’s programming code, Bloomberg Businessweek reports.
The company plans to take a snapshot of every active public project on its site, including major projects like Linux and the open-source parts of Android, and store them in the Arctic World Archive, a former mine in the far northern archipelago Svalbard. The code will be stored on special film reels from the Norwegian data storage tech company Piql that are expected to last 1,000 years. Additional copies of the top projects will be stored on film in Oxford University’s centuries-old Bodleian Library and on digital archives at the Internet Archive and Software Heritage Foundation.
“There is a long history of lost technologies from which the world would have benefited, as well as abandoned technologies which found unexpected new uses, from Roman concrete, or the anti-malarial DFDT, to the hunt for mothballed Saturn V blueprints after the Challenger disaster,” according to the GitHub announcement. “It is easy to envision a future in which today’s software is seen as a quaint and long-forgotten irrelevancy, until an unexpected need for it arises. Like any backup, the GitHub Archive Program is also intended for currently unforeseeable futures as well.”
It’s part of a growing consideration by the tech community of how to archive today’s digital materials to last through unpredictable societal changes or even large-scale collapse, whether from war, climate change-driven disaster, or something we can’t yet predict. Experts say it’s possible that in a world with limited digital networking, computing hardware could actually outlast the software it needs to be useful. Software is surprisingly prone to damage from causes like disk and memory failures, which might be accelerated by power fluctuations amid widespread disaster. It’s also affected by malware, which could be hard to combat without access to online virus databases.
“Because hardware can be much longer-lived than most of today’s storage media, especially older ones and/or those with mask ROM, there exists a range of possible futures in which working modern computers exist but their software has largely been lost to bit rot,” according to GitHub. “The Archive Program will preserve that software.”
The Svalbard archive will be near the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, an archive of the world’s plant biodiversity that preserves seeds from nearly one million species at frigid temperatures. The Seed Vault has gotten a lot of attention lately from would-be visitors interested in apocalyptic planning, and while the vault itself can’t be open to the public without damaging the seeds, it’s set to get a nearby visitor center designed by architecture and design firm Snøhetta by 2022.
While you may not be able to handle any seeds or disks, perhaps you’ll soon be able to get at least an in-person taste of the place that could be humanity’s—and software’s—best hope for survival if the apocalypse arrives.