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Imagine a situation in which a small group of people, not working for any gov has good reason to think that civilization (as we know it) is going to be destroyed soon. As usual as in such situation they plan to take women and children first (or some bunch of experts, scientists, hard working craftsmen, rich people and politicians... from unknown reason it tends to go this way). Nevertheless, in the same time they want to in hurry (a few months) to back up all useful human knowledge.

The plan is not just to back up all knowledge needed immediately, but actually stuff that may be useful centuries later.

Whole procedure has to be done more or less without dragging to much attention from special services. Violation of intellectual property is acceptable, but realistically hacking attacks would be beyond abilities.

In which areas there would be biggest problem to back up useful knowledge? (I mean useful, a TV series would be quite easy to back up using torrents, while losing a few of them would not be so great loss for civilization)

The areas that I see the biggest losses:

-military technology and dual use technology

-source codes for software (there would usable cracked executables, but the source code of non open source programs would be mostly lost, thus any future civilization would have limited ability to develop it further)

Surprisingly easy: scientific journals (using some sci-hub).

From really important issues, I'm not sure how easy/hard it would be to get important info about industrial processes? Or blue prints?

Question: which knowledge that impact future rebuilt of civilization would be most likely lost during such hurrying back up?

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    $\begingroup$ Anything not documented, so a huge amount of cultural data, however it's likely that people from those cultures wouldn't be invited along anyway. $\endgroup$ – Kilisi Apr 30 '17 at 8:09
  • $\begingroup$ You won't be able to tell till you get there. Write your story, let them rebuild. Then you will find for example that you lack plummers, and so your new civ dies for lack of sanitation. Second try you forget the grandma's who baby sit and make sure every one plays nice together, hence fall into anarchy. Long story short, our modern world is very complex and very few, if any, people have a complete picture about what is needed to rebuild. But then again, a story where everything goes perfectly is quite boring. $\endgroup$ – Flummox Apr 30 '17 at 10:06
  • $\begingroup$ The challenge is not just getting it, but also getting it into a format that will last and be usable in the future. What kind of time frame are we talking from end of world to ready to use the saved information, or what format would you need the data in (physical hard copy or will there be computers that can read hard drives). Also even digital data takes up space, is there is a physical limit to how much these people can store? $\endgroup$ – Anketam Apr 30 '17 at 12:03
  • $\begingroup$ knowledge of practice instead of principle, documentation of procedure has been a problem forever. $\endgroup$ – John Apr 30 '17 at 16:10
  • $\begingroup$ Getting all the code shouldn't be too hard. Clone all repos from Github, though that's many many TB of data. $\endgroup$ – Green Apr 30 '17 at 22:12
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First thing to remember is that your group is not alone. Even today there are paranoid individuals all over the planet that actively backup a variety of data that they think would be useful in the event of the end of the world. Governments also backup data for their own benefit, with agencies like the National Archives and Records Administration. As such anything your group fails to save, odds are someone somewhere likely has you covered.

The goal should not be to save everything, but enough so that scientists and engineers can fill in the gaps of that which is lost.

Downloading media

CNN reported that the average download speed in America broke 50 Mbps in late 2016. So I am going to assume that there are your group has multiple internet connections available for a total of 150 Mbps bandwidth. This means they will be able to download approximately 0.5 Terabytes of data a day till the end of the world (or until their cable provider decides to start throttling them).

Download Wikipedia

Wikipedia is rather large coming in at 23 TB for everything in 2014. Good news is that compressed dump only the articles is around 12 GB. If your groups wants to download the compressed dump of everything they can expect it to be over 250 GB, but still doable in a day.

This will net you a lot of raw information on a wide variety of topics that can help scientists in the new world rediscover lost technologies.

Download Stack Overflow

The Stack Exchange is a very important component of civilization, it is something that must not be lost in the event of an apocalypse. Good news is that much like Wikipedia it is possible to download archives of it. The most recent one for Stack Overflow I can find is 14 GB compressed. Again easily manageable for a small group of people.

As scientists and engineers go to redeveloping lost technologies the various stack exchanges may contain the key answer they need.

Download other repositories of information

The internet has many repositories available for download. Ranging from the US Patent Office to illegal torrents of data dumps. Downloading scientific journals can get complicated very quickly, since there are so many of them covering a wide variety of topics and they typically require a subscription. They should get as many scientific journals as they can, but it should be the last item on their list, since it will be the most time consuming.

Persisting the information

If you want this information to last more than 10 years, you will want to store it on something besides a hard drive or solid state drive. M-Disc DVD and Blueray are the best option with a rated life span of a 1,000 years. The catch is they only have a 21 Mbps write speed. So if your group is in a rush they are going to need several writers to get the media burned onto M-Discs.

What Gets Missed

Government Classified Data

Since no one in your group is associated with the government I would like to hope that they do not have access to any classified documents (outside of leaked documents). Even though governments are not paranoid of an apocalypse, they do have contingencies for foreign nations striking hard at their infrastructure. As such they tend to keep back up copies of sensitive government and military data somewhere that will survive the end. The big gotcha though is that the most sensitive classified data tends to be stored encrypted, so even if it survives the end of the world, it will not likely be in a usable format by your group, but likely some other group will be able to recover it (like a group of ex-government agents).

Most classified data is not going to be relevant to a rebuilt civilization. For example information on the real names of assets and moles in Russia and China may be very sensitive at this time, but in a new era this information would become irrelevant. So if it is lost, it would not be that big. On the other side even if all the blue prints for advanced military and spying technologies survive (which is doubtful), the technology used to make them will likely still need to be redeveloped.

Corporation Proprietary Data

This information will likely be lost, but anything that would impact future civilization would be able to be redeveloped. This would include things like the process of making chemicals that are used to make non-stick coatings for frying pans to formulas that are used to index and search the internet.

Personal Information

People tend to care about their past. Knowledge of people's family tree and genetics would be lost. Lots of this information when lost cannot be easily recovered. This type of information impacts culture and thus can impact new civilizations.

Conclusion

In the end things will get missed, but with enough time they will be rediscovered.

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  • $\begingroup$ I really like this answer, however, your "half a TB per day" seems odd - lots of companies include a monthly cap that assumes you don't download all day everyday. $\endgroup$ – Alex Robinson Apr 30 '17 at 22:22
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    $\begingroup$ Well it is divided amongst a group of connections, which helps. I also caveat it with the comment that "or until their cable provider decides to start throttling them" $\endgroup$ – Anketam Apr 30 '17 at 22:26
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Records of what doesn't work will be lost

Generally, people record their successes. Their failures are recorded by others or not at all. Human experience is the record of many failures mixed with a few successes. This knowledge is lost not so much because of the speed of the backups by this group, as much as it's not available for backup in the first place.

If we believe:

  • 95% of development is decisions of what to build.
  • 5% is building the thing.

Making decisions requires experiments and data. Knowing the results of 10,000 failed experiments saves you from having to redo them. If the majority of development of a new tool/technology is figuring out how not to make it, then knowing what doesn't work speeds development considerably.

For example: An expert swordsmith knows how to make a sword. They also know a thousand ways to not make a sword. On the swordsmith's death, those thousand ways of not making a sword are lost.

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Diseases and predators that humans haven't had to deal with in centuries, or even millenia depending on the kind of collapse civilization has faced. It would be extremely hard to get enough information about these in a hurry. Especially if society has to rebuild from the ground up and you need medicine to last about a million years.

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