Source of "Universal Video Library" is

ISBN 0-8092-5202-3


Claude Shannon, the founder of information theory, was an
engineer at Bell Laboratories. He was concerned with such
problems as the transmission of television images over tele-
phone lines. This work got him thinking about the nature of
information and about how such a subjective notion might be
To get anywhere, Shannon felt he would have to renounce
all interpretation of information. It was just as difficult to trans-
mit a meaningless image as a meaningful one. It seemed natu-
ral to say that they had the same information content. By the
same token, Shannon was able to incorporate the notion of
structure in his theory. A structured though abstract image
could be distinguished from a formless image.


Videotape is a digital medium. It encodes all the information
in a television image magnetically. Each second of action is
broken down into 30 still frames, and each frame is broken
down into thousands of pixels. The pixels have a certain num-
ber of states representing color and brightness. Sound tracks
are digital too. It follows that there are only so many possibili-
ties for a frame of videotape-and only so many ways of string-
ing frames together.
Upon hearing of this, Maxwell's demon started a new enter-
prise. He called it the Universal Video Library. He built a huge
warehouse and filled it with videotapes. He took out ads in the
show-business trade papers, to this effect:

ATTENTION, PRODUCERS: Why make TV shows and
movies the old-fashioned way? Why pay millions for actors,
actresses, directors, writers, set designers, location filming,
special effects, editors, and sound mixers when all you re-
ally need is a videotape of the final product? What ever
you're working on, stop production immediately. Don't
spend another penny until you come to the Universal
Video Library.
The Library is guaranteed to have a completed tape of
whatever you are working on-regardless of the stage of
far less than the cost of a day of taping. How is this possible,
you ask? Why, only because the Library is a Universal
Video Library!
It contains a copy of every possible videotape 100,000
frames long (a little over 56 minutes running time). Even
if two tapes differ only by the color of a certain pixel in the
59,003rd frame, the Library stocks both. Film producers,
take note: The Library uses such high-resolution videotape
that it may be transferred to film without any graininess.
And, of course, any movie longer than 56 minutes may be
found in two or more of our standard-length tapes.
You'll be amazed at the selection! Think a few Emmys or
Oscars would look good on your mantle? All the future
winners are somewhere on the Library's shelves. Come in
and browse-I'll help you separate the wheat from the
chaff. One visit to the Library, and you may never deal with
a "creative" person again! All a director does is to choose
one preexisiting possibility out of a big, finite ensemble.
You can do the same thing in the Library-cheaper. But,
remember: There are only so many masterpieces, and your
friends are already picking over them. Hurry in today!


Maxwell's demon will find himself as incapable of sorting good
videotapes from bad as he is of sorting fast molecules from
slow. His downfall is again that elusive concept, information.
The Universal Video Library is an update of physicist George
Gamow's playful idea of a universal printing press that would
print all possible lines of text. The library itself invokes no
(logical) impossibilities. For that reason the demon's videotape-
sorting scheme is all the more tantalizing.
The demon could certainly build a machine to generate
successively all possible videotapes. The information in any
videotape can be encoded as a string of digits. Each digit would
stand for the state (color or degree of brightness) of a given
pixel in a given frame, or for information about the sound track
accompanying a given frame. Such strings of digits would be
the "call numbers" of the demon's library. The machine need
only run through the call numbers successively, manufactur-
ing a tape to match each call number.
The first tape in the library would be 0000000000...
00000000. (The full number would be billions of digits long.)
Let 0 stand for a white pixel and also for silence in the sound
track. Then 00000...00000 is a silent blank white screen for
56 minutes. As it happens, the Korean video artist Nam June
Paik made a movie called Zen for Film that is nothing but a
blank white screen. The demon's library has a hit the first time
at bat-the very first tape contains a film that was shown in