16 May 2006

Scan this book!

by Kevin Kelly

In several dozen nondescript office buildings around the world, thousands of hourly workers bend over table-top scanners and haul dusty books into high-tech scanning booths. They are assembling the universal library page by page.

The dream is an old one: to have in one place all knowledge, past and present. All books, all documents, all conceptual works, in all languages. It is a familiar hope, in part because long ago we briefly built such a library. The great library at Alexandria, constructed around 300 B.C., was designed to hold all the scrolls circulating in the known world. At one time or another, the library held about half a million scrolls, estimated to have been between 30 and 70 percent of all books in existence then. But even before this great library was lost, the moment when all knowledge could be housed in a single building had passed. Since then, the constant expansion of information has overwhelmed our capacity to contain it. For 2,000 years, the universal library, together with other perennial longings like invisibility cloaks, antigravity shoes and paperless offices, has been a mythical dream that kept receding further into the infinite future.


1 comment:

Joshua Webber said...

I cannot help but think of Borges' library of babel. Instead, however, it is Kelly's "universal library...one very, very, very large single text: the worlds only book." He likens this library's quest, to contain all human knowledge, to that of science. Both are out to ressurect the tower of babel. So, besides the protests of those with copyright-financial-interests what will be the response of those wary of the power of omniscience? Question : I'm curious to know how science's financial compensation model (which Kelly propose as an alternative) works...?