Max Headroom and Channel 4

How is this retro? Read to the end. A few years ago I saw an ad for the new digital platform on Channel 4. It was posted on Youtube, and there were three ads in all, using Max Headroom to do most of the pitch. I commented on Max’s aging, asking how an AI could age like that. There were a couple of good answers, but my favorite was “Bitrot.” I was surprised that anyone still knew about that.

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Some time over the new year I watched the 60 minute backstory drama - it has a very 1985 feel to it, unsurprisingly:


I wondered when the term dated to, and found a reference in print from 1984:

These functions have been a persistent source of error and “ bit rot ”, motivating their omission from the MC68000 and RISC retargets of CODEGEN.

It appears in the Jargon File, but without any date or citation. I suppose I could search Usenet…
Here’s one from 1983. And one from 1982.

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I’m not familiar with the term “bit rot”. When I read it, I thought of optical disc rot, or “disc rot”, but the original context of that term was with Laserdisc. That was an analog format, so “bit” rot would not have been an appropriate term.

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As I know it, “bitrot” refers to degradation of files on magnetic media. (E.g., while not accessed in any way, a file suddenly would produce a different hash or checksum.)

Related are “bit flips” in working memory, which is, why you may want ECC memory (error-correcting code memory), which is in turn, why you may want a Xeon processor. (It’s said that there’s at least one bit flip encountered a day, and, indeed, there are several ECC bit flip warnings in my system log.)

kernel[0]: /!\ WARNING: corrected parity error(s) in DIMM Riser A/DIMM 1 ( ferr = 0x20002000 nerr == 0x00012000 )