Hungry Hollow Book Tank: A Lexiconigraphic Omnibus Digitalis

"By lack of understanding they remained sane." -Orwell.................. Our door lies open to all lovers of language. May words enrich your lives and grant you the power to affect physical change upon the universe. This site is staunchly dedicated to the freedom of information, the power of language, the history of literature and the beauty of poetry in the hopes that some turning of the earth will result of our utopian discord. By naming things we remember.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Universal Library

by George Dyson

Books are strings of code. But they have mysterious properties — like strings of DNA. Somehow, the author captures a fragment of the universe, unravels it into a one-dimensional sequence, squeezes it through a keyhole, and hopes that a three-dimensional vision emerges in the reader's mind. The translation is never exact.

The Old Testament prophets of the digital revolution — Thomas Hobbes, John Wilkins, and G. W. Leibniz — dreamed of a universal language: the Ratiocination of Hobbes; the Universall Character of Wilkins; the Calculus Ratiocinator of Leibniz. All three prophets saw that given ones and zeros, coding could do the rest. Two centuries later, the New Testament prophet Alan Turing showed that given any method for making — and remembering — distinctions from one moment to the next, you can build a Universal Machine. And if you build (or even just imagine) a Universal Machine, a Universal Language (and a Universal Library) is an inescapable result.

Given one of Mr. Turing's Universal Machines (by definition, equipped with a finite but unbounded tape) it is trivial to write a program whose output is the exact text of all possible books of a given length. This is the last library you ever have to build. Authors are obsolete! When the program comes to a halt (as we know it must) there will no longer be books that have not been written! There will only be books that have not been read! Now, it may take longer than the age of the universe to reach the volume you are looking for, and long before then every atom in the universe will have been consumed as ink, but those are mere details. There will always be new ways to speed up the printers, conserve resources, and weed out unpopular texts. This seems hopelessly unrealistic — but remember how unrealistic Turing's computer appeared in 1936.

The bound universe has been divided, in recent discussions over the digitization of books, into works in the public domain on one side, works under active copyright on the other, and a vast sea of inactive titles drifting in between. For those who dream of a Universal Library, however, any such classification is deficient, because it neglects the most important sector of the literary universe — books that have not been written yet. Read More...

Thanks for the tip BoingBoing


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