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COMMUNITY REPORT 2001: Ben H. Davis
Ben H. Davis
Digital Solutions Consulting
formerly Manager of Electronic Publications, J. Paul Getty Trust
Senior Scientist, Razorfish, Inc.
Which digital projects recently completed are making a difference in the work of those using them and why?
Can you cite any arts and humanities project that has pushed computer and information scientists and technologists into new work?
Since its formation in 1993, theMuseum Loan Network (funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts) based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has made steady progress in becoming a model collaboration facilitator for the arts and humanities. Its use of the Internet as a digital tool for the display of collections (more than 6,000 images on-line) , as a communication vehicle for collaboration, as a "digital thinking tool" for formulating exhibition possibilities, as a virtual exhibition space (ten 3-D galleries) , and as a leveraging tool for funding options has put the MLN in a unique position.
It has met the practical needs of facilitating the long-term loan of art and objects of cultural heritage among U.S. institutions as a way to enhance installations enabling them to better serve their communities; grant programs (travel, surveys, implementation) that help museums respond to the increasing public demand for installations relevant to a range of age groups and cultural heritages; providing better artistic, cultural, and historical contexts for works on display; and the sharing of objects among different types of museums, fostering collaborations between institutions of varying size and discipline.
In the process of meeting those practical needs, the MLN has revealed the deep need to connect, to collaborate in order to create new forms and new possibilities. The intent of the organization and the inherent potential of digital communication technology has created an organization that is approaching the ideal of a sustainable visionary collective. Thoroughly rooted in the magical role of the cultural object, it has facilitated the extension of that magic into the realm of "digital liquidity" - the ability of digital technology to transmit and transform, to create both an economy and the means to extend that economy based on common needs.
Conversely, have there been any advances in computer science (or in other fields) during the past year that hold promise for applications in the arts and humanities? Which scientific or technical developments (or even breakthroughs) occurred this year and how does the networking community stand to benefit from them?
IBM Research announced in May of this year it production of "antiferromagnetically-coupled (AFC) media." AFC is a three-atom-thick layer of the element ruthenium, a precious metal similar to platinum, sandwiched between two magnetic layers. Multilayer coating is expected to permit hard disk drives to store 100 billion bits (gigabits) of data per square inch of disk area by 2003. This enormously accelerates an industry trend toward smaller disk-drive form factors that consume less energy; and stimulate the creation of new and more capable digital-media and data-intensive applications.
In the past decade, the data density for magnetic hard disk drives has doubled every 18 months and, since 1997, doubled every year, which is much faster than Moore's Law for integrated circuits. Designers know they were accelerating toward a barrier that could suddenly halt further progress: When magnetic regions on the disk become too small, they cannot retain their magnetic orientations -- the data -- over the typical lifetime of the product. This is called the "superparamagnetic effect," and has long been predicted to appear when densities reached 20 to 40 billion bits (gigabits) per square inch, which is near the data density of current products.
AFC media is the first dramatic change in disk drive design made to avoid the high-density data decay due to the superparamagnetic effect. The 100-gigabit density milestone was once thought to be unattainable due to the superparamagnetic effect. A natural solution to this problem is to develop new magnetic alloys that resist more strongly any change in magnetic orientation. But recording data on such materials becomes increasingly difficult.
AFC media solves this problem. The ultra-thin ruthenium layer forces the adjacent layers to orient themselves magnetically in opposite directions. The opposing magnetic orientations make the entire multilayer structure appear much thinner than it actually is. Thus small, high-density bits can be written easily on AFC media, but they will retain their magnetization due to the media's overall thickness.
With AFC media, 100-gigabit data density could allow the following capacities within two years:
Desktop drives -- 400 gigabytes (GB) or the information in 400,000 books;
- Notebook drives -- 200 GB, equivalent to 42 DVDs or more than 300 CDs;
- One-inch Microdrives -- 6 GB or 13 hours of MPEG-4 compressed digital video (about eight complete movies) for handheld devices.
There is, however, no information available on the longevity of this new material.
The implication for the arts and humanities is obvious. Digital collections, collaborations, and delivery of new forms of multimedia exhibitions now have a basis in storage. The ability to catalog data more and more efficiently will be paramount. The issues around the longevity of digital materials will become critical.
Which issues, formulated in particular ways, were the most important of the year, and what appear to you to be some of the most promising avenues forward?
Recently the Museum Loan Network convened a series of meetings on "The Museum as a Catalyst for Interdisciplinary Collaboration" which brought together artists, educators, librarians, museum professionals, funders, and business consultants. These meetings revealed the scope and depth of sustainable energy, both cultural and economic, that can be unleashed by combining the resources of museums and communities. One especially compelling example is the MLN's collaboration with the American Composers Forum for travel and implementation grants. The hope is that the dialogue between composers and museums can lead to new transformations of the museum exhibition experience. As composer William Banfield hopes " music can bring a sense of life to something that is sitting behind glass." The use of the Internet for digital music and digital exhibition is boundless in the collaborative context.
Which statement or article has best crystallized for you key issues or developments of the year?
Howard Besser, "Digital Preservation of Moving Image Material?" The Moving Image, Fall 2001