The Legacy of Advanced Informatization

The present proceedings from the Symposium on the Legacy of Advanced Informatization, which was held at the Computer History Museum in Ljubljana on June 13 2022, represents an account of a variety of views on the challenges and the need for the systematic storage of software heritage. It introduces the topic into Slovenia’s contemporary professional discourse, with a view to laying the foundations for future frameworks that could help our society preserve the memory of the digital layer of human activity.

At the Computer History Museum, we have felt the need for such a broad discussion as a burning problem in our own work in media and digital archaeology, processes and attempts to reconstruct the ground-breaking digital imprints of Slovenian society. Our thesis for the expert panel was that all too often we let slip into oblivion what we interact with on a daily basis when we, the users of digital technologies, willfully ignore the layer that enables the no longer miraculous yet increasingly complex and misunderstood interface between humans and machines. What has been preserved has actually been preserved by chance thanks to conscientious individuals who were active either within organizations or privately. The goal behind this collection of papers is to prepare illustrative groundwork for future elaboration and suggest a more systematic approach to preserving what creates the digital human experience from inanimate hardware.

We intentionally invited a very diverse group of experts to the symposium to ensure a wide array of perspectives and thoughts, from the very developers of ground-breaking software in Ljubljana and Slovenia to authors of humanist interpretations and good practices that have been established in other segments of research or certain highly regulated industries. We opened legal questions regarding the vague definition of software intellectual property, and pointed to the effects of constant joint efforts in the development of the city and also on the confidence of software developers who grew in an environment boasting a distinct institutional and grassroots software activity.

In the introduction Dr Roberto di Cosmo frames the purpose of the symposium by presenting the genesis and work of the UNESCO Software Heritage foundation t, of which the Computer History Museum is an ambassador. He provides the principal arguments for recognizing the status of software as a form of intangible heritage as perceived by UNESCO, and discusses a practical example of software heritage archiving. Practical examples and an overview of decades of software development are offered by Dr Saša Divjak in computer sciences, Dr Primož Jakopin in linguistics, and Franc Zakrajšek in urban planning and digitalization of architectural cultural heritage. Divjak discusses the issues of software solutions obsolescence, while Jakopin explores the issues of archiving from the viewpoint of subsequent museum display. Zakrajšek delves into the development of digitalization in a specific field – urban planning – and uses various technological solutions to illustrate how development in Ljubljana kept up with global trends. Furtheron, Silvana Žorž, MA, connects the theoretical and practical aspects of the importance of values in software development based on an analysis of the company business and engineering culture in HERMES SoftLab, thus opening a discussion about the ability to preserve such intangible yet crucial heritage as a values system. This very human aspect is addressed also by Boštjan Špetič in an article uncovering insights into the reconstruction of the Iskra Delta Partner computer, archaeological findings from a hard drive, and the actual effects of presentation in the museum. Dr Nataša Milić-Frayling illustrates best practices through examples of long-term software storage in a highly regulated industry environment, and in a demanding artistic environment where the authenticity of the user experience is of paramount importance. Matija Šuklje discusses the complexity of legal interpretations of software which should be taken into account in organizing systematic storage, reconstruction and presentation to the public.

The expert panel raised questions yet also offered starting points for forming conclusions. The underlying idea intertwining all points of view was outstandingly human.

Software is transient.

Software is transient yet immortal in its idea, in the materialization of human inventiveness, the encapsulation of the spirit of a certain era, and the value systems of specific groups of people. It is an expression of our culture. It is our heritage.

In Slovenia there is ample room for improvement in terms of the storage, registering, conservation, and restoration of software heritage and also for different interpretations and presentations to the public. The first step will be taken as soon as we realize that software is our intangible cultural heritage and as such deserves a thorough treatment to avoid it disappearing forever. The history being discussed here is truly recent, barely more than half a century old. But it is vanishing rapidly with each update of user systems, and with each generation of hardware. Hence now is the right time to wonder what will be left for us to show future generations in the next 50 years. Will we truly be able to properly explain how digital interactions shaped our society without authentic, interactive experiences? Will we collectively forget about them?