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I am trying to think of a good way for an effectively all-powerful organization to preserve humanity's knowledge for when the inevitable apocalypse happens so that, when the time comes for survivors to rebuild the ruins of society, they will at least have all of the knowledge that their ancestors have had until this point. Now, one ideal that the organization aspires to is that, whatever means of preserving information they use, a chimpanzee should be able to understand it. Of course, that is not always possible.

Here are the criteria for a method of preserving the knowledge of humanity:

  • The storage medium must not be such that it requires advanced infrastructure to access the data. So, anything that requires an atomic force microscope to read is right out.
  • The information storage system must be able to contain truly vast amounts of data. We're talking probably the entirety of Google Patents, probably most of the papers in scientific journals, plus copious amounts of technical manuals describing things such as how various machinery is built, how to make the tools needed to make the tools needed to build said machinery are build, ore smelting techniques, the composition of water to use for the concrete, etc. Essentially, absolutely nothing can be left to the mercy of "It's so blindingly obvious, we don't need to write it down" or "They'll work it out themselves".
  • It cannot be assumed that the survivors will speak the same language as that used in writing down the information or that they will be able to translate it by themselves.
  • It should be able to last a long time.

My only idea so far has been to have the needed information preserved by having it engraved into plates of titanium and have several "Rosetta Stones" made that have words alongside pictograms explaining their meaning so that translation of the stored info would be possible, all stored in underground vaults. Does anyone have better ideas?

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    $\begingroup$ Does this answer your question? How might modern humans leave a message for 50,000 years? There's also 1, 2, 3, 4 and more. This has been a popular question here. It's always worth searching the Stack before posting a question. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Mar 18, 2023 at 3:11
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    $\begingroup$ Does "all the knowledge" really mean ALL the knowledge? Celebrity gossip? Videos of mean cats? Old weather forecasts for the Antarctic ocean? Speeches by demagogues to local rotary clubs? The trivial differences between types of mens' hats? $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Mar 18, 2023 at 10:31
  • $\begingroup$ So far, when civilization collapsed, a different civilization developed. Perhaps instead of preserving knowledge, we simply preserve some humans who will have curiosity and thus, build a new civilization based on the resources available at that time. $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Mar 18, 2023 at 14:12
  • $\begingroup$ There are problems with "truly vast amounts of data:" Most of that data will be junk: Decades of lab reports on the fruitless search for Phlogistin. Junk patents never used. Centuries of research papers and PhD theses that never went anywhere. Eugenics and other useless blind alleys. "Vast amounts of data" suggests an assumption that scholars after the apocalypse to sort the jems from the dreck will be more plentiful and cheap than they are now. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Mar 19, 2023 at 4:11
  • $\begingroup$ 1. If they are an all-powerful organisation then by definition they can prevent any apocalypse, or create a nice tame apocalypse that people can start recovering from in a hundred years using the books in their climate-controlled library. 2. AFAIK we can't create written / pictographic instructions that chimpanzees will follow for building any object at all without in-person instruction, so that aspiration seems doomed before it starts. $\endgroup$ Mar 20, 2023 at 1:08

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Nevil Shute's "On the Beach" (1957) there was a project to write down all human knowledge by fine engraving on glass. There is a slow extinction in the southern hemisphere following the extinction of the north in a nuclear war. There was no preparation, but this could probably use existing stocks of glass. A more modern process might be to laser etch the writing below the surface, rather than on the surface.

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Treat Wood

You can soak the wood in different chemicals or use techniques to make wood last hundreds to thousands of years without petrification. But first, make sure to draw on the wood.

For example . . . using fire to harden the wood . . . adding layers of chemicals to keep the wood from disintegrating or growing moldy . . . then adding layers of special wax to protect it . . . the list goes on and on.

Drawbacks:

  • Works better when more die (sorry)
  • Mass production might be required (in case of failures)
  • Needs extensive research (what works best, what is the best type of material, etc.)
  • Lots of resources
  • Pictures might not tell everything (in this case, add some writing even if they can't figure out how to read it immediately; the writing will take ages to decipher but its better than not giving a clue)

Positives:

  • Long-lasting (requirement)
  • If everyone dies and it takes some time for more living beings, these will still be there (restrictions such as supernovas or billions of years still apply)
  • Easy to get wood (unless your civilization used up all wood, which in that case you will need to find something like stone or dirt . . .)
  • Pictures can show movement (ex: walking, running, karate)
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A monastery.

Yes - just set up a community somewhat apart from the rest of society but not completely isolated from it, and devoted to preserving the knowledge by applying it; i.e. making the things that they wish to see preserved, over and over again.

Those monks will then meet all of your criteria:

  • no advanced infrastructure required to access the data: you can just walk over and talk with them;
  • can hold a lot of information in the monks' memories, organisational practices, and possibly a library of specialised books they themselves wrote;
  • can learn the prevailing language of the wider population, with which they remain in contact, thus avoiding a language barrier;
  • the monastery can continue to exist for as long as preserving their knowledge is seen as important enough for new entrants to join and replace the previous ones as they age and inevitably die.

Obviously, one monastery cannot possibly keep all the knowledge that you wish to preserve. There will be a network of them, each specialising in its own chosen technology.

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    $\begingroup$ Definitely not one specialization each, unless you want to lose a whole bunch of technologies. Efficiency is the enemy of robustness. The more effecient a system becomes, the more easily destroyed it becomes. And one wants robustness here. So it would be better for each monetary to have a little of everything. $\endgroup$
    – user102593
    Mar 18, 2023 at 10:31
  • $\begingroup$ Marvalice, thank you. Yes, this is an additional bonus of a monastery: it becomes a filter for unsustainable technologies. Remember, we are talking about preserving technology through apocalypse, an event which would wipe out much of the population, economy and resources. If you can't keep a technology alive with just a monastery's worth of effort -in good times-, then it would not have made it through an apocalypse anyway. $\endgroup$
    – ihaveideas
    Mar 18, 2023 at 10:50
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Use advanced technology

A frame challenge. Technology can be the key for a super advanced society. After an apocalypse you have too many variables to account for. You don't know how much time will elapse, making it difficult to keep safe from erosion, earthquakes, changes in weather and more. You don't know what the species that needs to read it can understand, talks or even is interested in the knowledge. Not to mention that they might not be ready for some knowledge at certain stages.

Technology can solve all this. A properly advanced civilisation can create multiple fully automated facilities. Each facility is build to be long lasting and dormant for longtimes. It'll periodically check for damage and dangers, repairing where needed, getting more supplies if needed and even moving the whole operation if needed. This way you can more safely ensure that the operation lasts millenia if needed.

The second advantage is that the software running the place can play an active role in the education. It can entice sufficiently knowledgeable species to come over and learn. It can adapt the language, choose what to knowledge is best to share and guide them to a better civilisation.

This way you can store immense amounts of information on long lasting crystals or whatever that can only be read by an atomic force microscope. This is because the facility does this for the species.

For a super advanced civilisation that needs to perserve knowledge in case of apocalyptic events, technology is the best way to store, keep safe and then share the knowledge over long periods of time.

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First, I gave a look into the Size of Wikipedia article.

This is an estimation of the size of what English Wikipedia would be if printed in early 2020, without the images:

Wikipedia

This is 13 full bookcases and a 14th bookcase being built. To account for all the future growth and also add the images, let's consider it 30 bookcases. This fits into a library room (and let's call it a standard library room).

This is the size of the English Wikipedia in comparison to its other languages versions:

Distribution

So, let's say that the English version is 10% of it. To account for future growth of articles in other languages to the size of eventually competing with the English one, let's give 5% to English.

This means that everything on Wikipedia would fit 20 standard rooms in a library.

Let's consider that all the Wikipedia contains 10% of the useful knowledge. The other 90% comes from articles, books, magazines, GitHub, YouTube videos transcribed as comics, other stuff. This gives 200 standard rooms full of books. That is a huge library occupying the size of a large building, but far from impossible. Also, if needed, splitting it up into smaller buildings is feasible.

Now, deploy a thousand of such libraries around the world. Most of them should be easily accessible, just walk into the building, start entering rooms, open bookcases and get the books. To ensure survival from thousands of years of earthquakes, fires, tornados, hurricanes, floods, molds, wars, dust, storms, looters, vandals, etc, put at least a few hundred of those libraries being contained into sealed vaults filled with an argon atmosphere.

The sealed vaults should feature some large stones in the front of their doors. Those stones should contain the instructions of how to safely open them and access their content. Those instructions are carved down into the stones and written in several languages. But opening the vaults should require a large group of determined people, should not be too easy and should not be harmless if done incorrectly. This serves to deter random looters and vandals.

Those sealed vaults could be underground caves or mines or pyramids built with this sole purpose in desert areas, glaciers or mountains far from geologic failures and significantly higher than the sea level. They also contain empty void areas below them with a drain to elsewhere and also hollows in the walls in order to ensure that any infiltrating water goes down and drains elsewhere and don't damage nor reach the chamber.

To make at least one of the languages understandable for people speaking something not familiar to any of them, put millions of language books in the first room of the library or perhaps into thousands of mini-libraries. Those language books starts with things like this:

language book

Further, the book pages might not be made of ordinary paper. Should be made of something resistant to corrosion, abrasion, water, heat, fire, cold, shock, wearing, wrinkling, tearing, crumpling, molds, ants, termites and goats but also be nearly worthless for anything other than their intended use and also should be something cheap and abundant. Maybe thickened aluminum foils will do. Maybe plasticized canvas treated with a fire-retardant and impermeable varnish. Of course, they are just resistant to accidents, misuse and to the elements of nature, but this is still far from being indestructible for someone intending to destroy them. The thickening of the paper will make it use much more space, but even if you make each library occupy the quadruple of the space that one full of common papery books would occupy is still ok (so, each library have 800 standard rooms). To further discourage its usage by looters, give a huge stock (the equivalents of further 1200 rooms) of "blank pages" in the entrance of those libraries, so they would prefer to loot those, but put a clear sign telling apart what is the real treasure and what is not.

In the end, each of those libraries would be the size of a stadium, a shopping center or a skyscraper, but most of that structure would be buried deep underground for safety.

If you want to reduce size, you could also put all those stuff into high density SDD storage, so each library would easily fit a very large server and add an annex in the form of paper-library telling how to build the tech needed to read them. And then, deploy tens of thousands of those scattered in the globe.

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