The Arctic World Archive and Github preserving open source code on film

The Arctic World Archive is an apocalyptic vault that serves as data repository, designed to preserve the most important pieces of human culture (relics of art, literature, and religion, both physical and digital artifacts) for future generations in the event of a global disaster. It was inaugurated in 2017 and it’s buried deep in a decommissioned coal mine in Spitsbergen, the northernmost settlement of the world. It’s positioned to withstand the effects of climate change in one of the most geopolitically stable locations on the planet.

The vault includes manuscripts from the Vatican Library, masterpieces from Rembrandt, and also 21 terabytes of open source code, including source code for the Android operating system and Bitcoin cryptocurrency. To pull it off, the Arctic World Archive partnered with GitHub, a code hosting platform and the world’s largest software repository. GitHub backs up all of this code in data centers around the world, but hard drives aren’t disaster-proof. For this reason, GitHub and the Arctic World Archive sought to find a more permanent solution for data preservation: film. The code sits on just 186 reels of Piql film – a “high-resolution photosensitive film specially designed for longevity and high density digital writing.”

“We have converted film into a modern, digital information carrier,” Rune Bjerkestrand, the founder of Piql, explains. “You can’t really see it with your bare eyes, but once you put it under the microscope it’s actual individual pixels filling up a super high resolution QR code.”

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