Indelible Memories on the Net

Future archeologists may decode the zeros and ones embedded in the digital layers of the Internet to get a picture of the Information Age, much as 19th century British Assyriologist Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson deciphered cuneiform to unravel the mysteries of the Bronze Age. Since July 1997, a team of five research scientists at the NEC Research Institute in Princeton, N.J., have been developing a new kind of global, distributed computer memory that might make the task of those archeologists a whole lot easier than Sir Henry’s.

The Intermemory, as it has been christened by the NEC scientists, will preserve information perfectly and protect it in perpetuity, invulnerable to hackers, power outages, natural disasters, war and just about everything with the possible exception of Armageddon. At least, that’s the theory.

According to NEC Research Scientist Peter Yianilos, individuals and institutions can create their own Intermemories, in which they can save valuable documents such as memoirs, photographs, letters, corporate histories and financial information. Through a combination of erasure codes, advanced algorithms and protocols for system self-repair, information dispersal and secure administration, the Intermemory mathematically transforms data on a CPU into fragments of the original and scatters those pieces among computers connected to the Internet all over the world. When the user installs and configures his Intermemory software he will also reserve a portion of his hard drive for the Intermemory. On it, he will store both his memories and those of others who have contributed to the same Intermemory. That way if half the information stored on an Intermemory is lost, the original documents or images can be reconstructed from the pieces that remain.

Yianilos and his colleagues are testing a small prototype of an Intermemory in the lab and they hope to have it fully implemented for the millennium.

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