title:The Noah Library ver.1.0e
by Taro Kimura
SILICON SNAKE OIL
BY CLIFFORD STOLL
What's the library of the future? Marvin Minsky, MIT professor
and bright light of artificial intelligence, saw himself there: "Can you
imagine that they used to have libraries where the books didn't talk
to each other?"
Edward Feigenbaum, Pamela McCorduck, and H. Penny Nii, all
AI luminaries, write that "libraries of today are warehouses for pas-
sive objects. The books and journals sit on shelves waiting for us to
use our intelligence to find them, read them, interpret them, and
finally, make them divulge their stored knowledge."
Feigenbaum's expert-system library uses knowledge servers to
collect and summarize relevant information. Electronic textbooks
and knowledge processors assist users in problem-solving and com-
plex-thinking tasks. Knowledge structures are kept in knowledge
storage and knowledge bases are maintained by knowledge engi-
No books in their library. No librarians. No newspapers. Just
Writing in "Networks, Open Access, and Virtual Libraries: Implica-
tions for the Research Library," Clifford Lynch, a library-automation
advocate, makes a number of predictions for 1996: "A user will
discuss information needs with software on his or her workstation.
The workstation will access a range of networked information re-
sources, will handle budgeting among these resources, will synthe-
size information from multiple sources, will learn about new re-
sources as they become available, and will perform an active
information refining function. There will be no need to involve a
local library provided system."
His library overflows with information and resources, has plenty
of workstations and networks, but no books.
Let me describe my idealized library of the future. There are lots
of books, a card catalog, a children's section with a story hour, a
reading room with this morning's newspapers, plenty of magazines, a
box of discarded paperback books (selling for a quarter each), a cork
bulletin board stapled over with community announcements, a cheap
photocopier, and a harried, but smiling, librarian. I'll see a couple of
library volunteers reshelving volumes. Oh yes, locate this library
smack in may neighborhood.
Well, almost nothing. At the Illinois Benedictine College, Pro-
fessor Michael Hart founded Project Gutenberg with a goal of creat-
ing an entire library for online access. By the year 2001, they'll scan
in ten thousand books, which will then be available for downloading
or cheap publication on CD-ROM. A worthy cause, funded entirely
by volunteer efforts.
After several years of text scanning, the Gutenberg library in-
cludes Moby Dick, Paradise Lost, the Bible, an address by George
Bush, Alice in Wonderland, and the constitution of Peru.
This is great stuff, and I'm tickled to see it happening. There's a
warm feeling of volunteers bringing literature online. Since 1971,
they've digitized about two hundred books.
Still, I'm missing something. Two hundred books easily fit on
five bookshelves. That's what I'm missing-about ten million vol-
Professor Hart won't argue that Project Gutenberg's collection is
small. But it's growing-ten books get scanned in every month.
Remember their goal of ten thousand digitized works by 2001; con-
trast that with the forty thousand books published yearly.
Who decides what makes the cut? The Magna Carta? The latest
Tom Clancy thriller? An obscure paper written by Stephen Hawk-
ing? A biography of Michael Jackson? With all the great literature
out there, I'm surprised to find Terminal Compromise by Winn
Schwartau and The Dawn of amateur Radio in the U.K. and Greece by
Norman Joly among the first two hundred books.
Not that the Guttenberg folks don't have high aims. They expect
a billion computer users within seven years. A tenth of these will get
a complete set of their works. Every reader gets ten thousand files,
each worth a dollar-don't ask me how they value George Bush's
inaugural address at a buck. From these dubious suppositions, they
claim they're producing a trillion dollars in value.
Such pie in the sky claims form the backdrop to a related fantasy:
the online library.
One of the great promises of the online world is fast access to
great quantities of information. Internet proponents talk of libraries
without books, the time when essentially all publications will be
available over the net work. We'll be able to read and access any
document from our workstations. Books will be distributed electron-
I claim that this bookless library is a dream, a hallucination of
online addicts, network neophytes, and library-automation insiders.
King Ptolemy the First sent messages to all the sovereigns and
governors of the known world asking for works by anyone-"poets
and prose-writers, and all the others too." Any books on board ships
passing through the harbor would be confiscated and copied, the
copies going back on board.
This collection of five hundred thousand scrolls marked the apo-
gee of Hellenistic Greece. Ptolemy Philadelphus would hold sympo-
sia, where he quizzed the greatest sages of the day: "How can the
kingdom be preserved?" "In legal proceedings, how can one stay on
good terms with one's wife?" and "How should one employ one's
A Jewish scholar, unaware that his questioner owned all the
books in the world, answered this last query: "Above all, you should
Now, this hasn't much to do with computers or networks, except
for what happened in the ensuing nine hundred years. When Caesar
set fire to the Egyptian fleet in the harbor of Alexandria, the flames
accidentally consumed some of the library buildings. Afterward,
Marc Antony, who had the hots for Cleopatra, tried to make amends
by rebuilding the library. But in 389 A.D., Theodosius, the Christian
emperor of Rome, outlawed pagan monuments and heathen temples;
in turn, Bishop Theophilus allowed the library to be pillaged.
Still, a part of this once great library survived another three
hundred years. One account-probably little more than first-millen-
nium propaganda-tells how Amrou ibn al-As raised the flag of
Mohammed above the walls of Alexandria. He asked the Caliph
Omar what to do with the library. Sadly, the response read: "If the
books are in accord with the Koran, we may do without them, for
the book of Allah more than suffices. If they are not in accord, then
there is no need to preserve them."
They took six months to burn those books, using them to heat
water for the public baths.
THE SONGS OF DISTANT EARTH
BY ARTHUR C. CLARKE
Moses Kaldor was happy to be left alone, for as many hours or
days as he could be spared, in the cathedral calm of First Landing.
He felt like a young student again, confronted with all the art and
knowledge of mankind. The experience was both exhilarating and
depressing; a whole universe lay at his fingertips, but the fraction
of it he could explore in an entire lifetime was so negligible that
he was sometimes almost overwhelmed with despair. He was like
a hungry man presented with a banquet that stretched as far as the
eye could see - a feast so staggering that it completely destroyed
And yet all this wealth of wisdom and culture was only a tiny
fraction of mankind's heritage; much that Moses Kaldor knew and
loved was missing - not, he was well aware, by accident but by
A thousand years ago, men of genius and goodwill had
rewritten history and gone through the libraries of Earth deciding
what should be saved and what should be abandoned to the flames.
The criterion of choice was simple though often very hard to
apply. Only if it would contribute to survival and social stability
on the new worlds would any work of literature, any record of the
past, be loaded into the memory of the seedships.
The task was, of course, impossible as well as heartbreaking.
With tears in their eyes, the selection panels had thrown away the
Veda, the Bible, the Tripitaka, the Qur'an, and all the immense
body of literature - fiction and nonfiction - that was based upon
them. Despite all the wealth of beauty and wisdom these works
contained, they could not be allowed to reinfect virgin planets
with the ancient poisons of religious hatred, belief in the
supernatural, and the pious gibberish with which countless billions
of men and women had once comforted themselves at the cost of
addling their minds.
Lost also in the great purge were virtually all the works of the
supreme novelists, poets, and playwrights, which would in any
cultural background. Homer, Shakespeare, Milton, Tolstoy,
Melville, Proust - the last great fiction writer before the
electronic revolution overwhelmed the printed page - all that was
left were a few hundred thousand carefully selected passages.
Excluded was everything that concerned war, crime, violence,
and the destructive passions. If the newly designed - and it was
hoped improved - successors to H. sapiens rediscovered these, they
would doubtless create their own literature in response. There
was no need to give them premature encouragement.
Music - except for opera - had fared better, as had the visual
arts. Nevertheless, the sheer volume of material was so over-
whelming that selection had been imperative, though sometimes
arbitrary. Future generations on many worlds would wonder
about Mozart's first thirty-eight symphonies, Beethoven's Second
and Fourth, and Sibelius's Third to Sixth.
'Because you've descended from a long line of librarians,' Moses
Kaldor said, 'you only think in megabytes. But may I remind you
that the name "library" comes from a word meaning book. Do you
have books on Thalassa?
'Of course we do,' Mirissa said indignantly; she had not yet
learned to tell when Kaldor was joking. 'Millions ... well,
thousands. There's a man on North Island who prints about ten a
year, in editions of a few hundred. They're beautiful - and very
expensive. They all go as gifts for special occasions. I had one on
my twenty-first birthday - Alice in Wonderland.'
'I'd like to see it someday. I've always loved books, and have
almost a hundred on the ship. Perhaps that's why whenever I hear
someone talking bytes, I divide mentally by a million and think of
one book ... one gigabyte equals a thousand books, and so on.
That's the only way I can grasp what's really involved when
people talk about data banks and information transfer. Now, how
big is your library?'
Without taking her eyes off Kaldor, Mirissa let her fingers
wander over the keyboard of her console.
'That's another thing I've never been able to do,' he said
admiringly. 'Someone once said that after the twenty-first
century, the human race divided into two species - Verbals and
Digitals. I can use a keyboard when I have to, of course - but I
prefer to talk to my electronic colleagues.'
'As of the last hourly check,' Mirissa said, 'six hundred and
'Um - almost a billion books. And what was the initial size of
'I can tell you that without looking it up. Six hundred and
'So in seven hundred years -
'Yes, yes - we've managed to produce only a few million
'I'm not criticizing; after all, quality is far more important than
quantity. I'd like you to show me what you consider the best
works of Lassan literature - music, too. The problem we have to
decide is what to give you. Magellan has over a thousand
megabooks aboard, in the General Access bank. Do you realize
just what that implies?'
'If I said "Yes", it would stop you from telling me. I'm not that
'Thank you, my dear. Seriously, it's a terrifying problem that's
haunted me for years. Sometimes I think that the Earth was
destroyed none too soon; the human race was being crushed by the
information it was generating.
'At the end of the Second Millennium, it was producing only -
only! - the equivalent of a million books a year. And I'm referring
merely to information that was presumed to be of some
permanent value, so it was stored indefinitely.
'By the Third Millennium, the figure had multiplied by at least
a hundred. Since writing was invented, until the end of Earth, it's
been estimated that ten thousand million books were produced.
And as I told you, we have about ten per cent of that on board.
'If we dumped it all on you, even assuming you have the storage
capacity, you'd be overwhelmed. It would be no kindness - it
would totally inhibit your cultural and scientific growth. And
most of the material would mean nothing at all to you; you'd take
centuries to sort the wheat from the chaff ...'
Strange, Kaldor said to himself, that I've not thought of the
analogy before. This is precisely the danger that the opponents of
SETI kept raising. Well, we never communicated with extrater-
restrial intelligence, or even detected it. But the Lassans have done
just that - and the ETs are us ...
Yet despite their totally different backgrounds, he and Mirissa
had so much in common. Her curiosity and intelligence were traits
to be encouraged; not even among his fellow crew members was
there anyone with whom he could have such stimulating
conversations. Sometimes Kaldor was so hard put to answer her
questions that the only defense was a counterattack.
'I'm surprised,' he told her after a particularly thorough cross-
examination on Solar politics, 'that you never took over from
your father and worked here full-time. This would be the perfect
job for you.'
'I was tempted. But he spent all his life answering other people's
questions and assembling files for the bureaucrats on North Island.
He never had time to do anything himself.'
'I like collecting facts, but I also like to see them used. That's
why they made me deputy director of the Tarna Development