[extropy-chat] Damien predicts Google (sort of) in 1985
thespike at satx.rr.com
Thu Dec 14 05:52:48 UTC 2006
No, I'd never heard of Xanadu, although I did drop a version of
ARPANET (AussieNET) into a 1981 story. What follows is from an
extensive review I published of the Encyclopaedia Britannica 21 years
ago. (Here just for laughs, and an eerie sense of Moore's Law.)
If the encyclopaedia could be plugged into the back of my head, with
access through an electro-neural index, how happy I'd be. I'd have
the thing grafted in, take my word for it. Don't laugh. Just because
the Britannica is in printed form today, it need not be so in the future.
It takes about 250 million bytes of storage to contain
the sum of human knowledge, as represented by the words in
Britannica. A quarter of a gigabyte. Suppose we wanted to store that
in a computer instead of 32 fat volumes. My venerable Kaypro-II
computer uses two single-sided diskettes with a combined data
capacity of just under 400 kilobytes. A Kaypro 10, which today is
just about the same price as my primitive machine three years ago,
has hard disk storage built in, which can contain 25 times that much
information--10 megabytes. That's a lot short of the whole
Britannica, admittedly. But wait.
Consider the common or garden laser-read Compact Disk
record. A couple of years ago these astonishingly high-fidelity
musical recordings were well beyond the financial range of all but
demented audio fiends. Today, CD players cost about $500, and the
price is still falling. The disks themselves are now about the same
price as an old-fashioned LP record, and contain no less than 540
megabytes of information. And the worse-case time to locate and
access any particular part of that information (once you've loaded
the disk into the machine) is one and a half seconds.
So think of a single mirror-shiny CD disk containing the
entire text of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, with enough space left
over for at least some of the illustrations. (Pictures are
data-costly, and there are 24,000 of them, including 1300 maps.) Use
it as a Read-Only Memory mass storage medium for a simple home
computer, and you have the ideal Encyclopaedia of tomorrow. It could
cost less in mass production than a home movie videotape.
You'd have an almost instantaneous index, instead of two
biggish books to lug off the shelf, an index that would search for
any topic you key in, tracing all kinds of possible pathways for you
as swiftly as you can respond to the little blinking cursor on the screen.
What's more, a computer could pull out all the relevant
bits and pieces from a hundred articles stored throughout the
Encyclopaedia Britannica and paste them together into a big,
custom-tailored piece to fit the information requirements you
nominate. In fact, this is just the sort of thing the dreaded
Propaedia attempts so unsuccessfully to let you do by hand now.
I'm told that Chicago have decided against retailing a
computerised Britannica in the foreseeable future, deeming the 1985
up-graded edition suitable until the 21st century, but I wouldn't be
at all surprised if the pressure of technology forced them to change
You see, while CD Random Access might be one way of
plugging the Britannica into your computer, there's no reason why it
shouldn't be physically built in. This is what the science writer
Nigel Calder has to say in his futurological study "1984 and Beyond":
"All the words of the Encyclopaedia Britannica could be
transmitted from New York to Washington DC in one second by the
lightwave optical-fibre telecommunications link now in service. The
words could also be stored on a wafer of silicon no wider than a saucer."
That's as may be. What about right now? It's a little like the
question teasing so many middle-income minds: should I buy a computer
now or wait for Utopia?
Yes, you can always go up the road to the public library
and use their set (except at the weekend, and the morning, and at
night when they're closed...), just as you can always use public
transport when it's running. Public is cheaper and more socially
redemptive; you have to wait until it's available, assuming it is;
and the truth is, most people have cars and go places in them.
I've found this: having the Britannica around the place
is more-ish, like cashews.
The only thing better for comprehensive answers to
virtually anything you're likely to wish to know, all in one place,
is the Junior Woodchuck's Handbook.
Devotees of Donald Duck comics dream of finding a copy
of that fabled vade-mecum. The triplets Huey, Dewy and Louie were
never without a copy. It fitted neatly into a back pocket, and was
absolutely exhaustive, practical, wise and simple to understand. What
a shame it doesn't exist.
Emerging technology might make the Junior Woodchuck's
Britannica possible inside ten years, and then all the disadvantages
of bulk and eye-testing print will be forgotten. The entire 250
megabytes will be there in the palm of your hand, ready to be
consulted on a flat screen...
Wow! The Wonderful World of the Future!
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