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Human Potential in the Age of Exponential Tech

Ted Tuesday- Brewster Kahle on building a global digital library

It’s that time of the week again – Ted Tuesdays! If you’re just tuning in to my weekly series here’s the deal: I love TED. I watch one of the talks every day. Each week, I pick my favorite one and post it up here, to see what you think about it. Hopefully it sparks your interest, and you can share your thoughts in the comments section below. A few people have taken to dropping me an email, and that’s fine too!

So far we’ve heard talks from:

Aubrey De Grey on Living to Be 1000

Ken Robinson on How Education is Killing Creativity

JJ Abrams on Finding Inspiration in the Mystery Box

Today’s talk is from Librarian Brewster Kahle and his mission to digitize all content. He dreams of having every piece of content (all movies, books, software, videos, television, sites) available for free to everyone and anyone who wants to view it.

Why You Should Watch

Brewster Kahle is building a truly huge digital library — every book ever published, every movie ever released, all the strata of web history … It’s all free to the public — unless someone else gets to it first. Brewster Kahle’s stated goal is “Universal access to all knowledge,” and his catalog of inventions and institutions created for this purpose read like a Web’s Greatest Hits list. In 1982 he helped start Thinking Machines, a supercomputer company specializing in text searching, and would go on to invent the Internet’s first publishing and distributed search system, WAIS, whose customers included the New York Times and the United States Senate.

I think the issue of the availability of information is going to become an increasingly important issue. We saw some of the implications with Roger’s traffic shaping, and the lawsuits that have come up against people using copyrighted clips online. I myself am feeling the impact when trying to decide which book reader to purchase, both Amazon and Sony have developed proprietary formats that only work on their readers (although Sony lets you read .pdfs)

What does this mean for us as we move towards migrating a lot of that content online? What is the solution?

My Favorite Part:

I love that he is offering unlimited storage forever and for free to whoever has something that they want to share. It is so important to build the systems to facilitate the easy and free sharing of information.I also love the shots of the kids around the world, some who have never owned a book before that moment.  I also like the idea of having that content be the fodder for new creations. Mixing and mashing new materials. We already do this now in terms of movie and song remakes at least people would hopefully be better educated about the origins of what they listen to!

My Take

Can you imagine one day being able to access every book, movie, video, site, software every created from your book reader? (Or whatever device we’re using then)

I think that would be incredible. Kahle says that digitizing the universal knowledge base could be the greatest accomplishment of man. What do you think?

How could we make something like this sustainable? Profitable?

More importantly, should it be a public or private financed venture? What roles to corporations play in this effort and how would that impact the ownership of the results?

Even if content companies get on board, what about the distribution platforms? Will the Rogers of the world be willing to meet this higher demand? Will they want to?

Check out the Internet Archive’s Wayback machine that lets you view snapshots of websites from over the years. Try finding the a what Google looked like when it was still in Alpha.

Comments: 1

  • Brandon Bouwhuis

    December 2, 2008

    My personal experience with universal access and digitization has been positive. I’ve been able to track down old television shows, listen to a few music clips, and read a ton of online books. The first book I read for free online, which is appropriate for this topic, is entitled: J.B. Bury, 1920. “The Idea of Progress – An Inquiry into its Origin and Growth.” It’s an excellent read.

    Universal access to information would be a great leap in progress towards equality of humankind. Although I don’t yet enjoy reading a computer screen as much as I do a physical book, I agree that digitization is the best current option to achieve universal access. This would also create a huge shift in the role information plays in education – something that Mr. Kahle didn’t touch on, but must also be considered. Also of importance is the integration of “old” information (i.e. up to the current year) and “brand-new” information, such as newly published journal papers, scholarly material, or fresh-off-the-test-bench reports. For the latter, a number of free access programs have started to emerge, e.g. Open Access, and I think there are many lessons that can be learned from these to make the two sources of information work together as well as possible. To consider both will ensure sustainability of the database in terms of adaptation, integration, and even credibility.

    Besides the above, I have a few additional brief thoughts. 1) I was impressed to see the OLPC XO computer made into an e-book, and I think integration with existing technology will make a more seamless transition. 2) I don’t like the idea of a book-mobile because of the potential huge use of resources. I think the best solution can be found in converting the concept of ownership from physical (i.e. a book) to digital, which also helps reduce redundancies. 3) Mr. Kahle mentions “business model issues about how to effectively model it and effectively get it to people…” I’d like to know what these models are. 4) To the funding question: I don’t care who pays for it, so long as there isn’t a conflict of interest, or bias adopted/enforced by the financer. The World Bank seems like it could also foot that (relatively inexpensive) bill. 5) I do see copyrights as a speed-bump towards obtaining universal access to some media types. On the other hand, perhaps the Rogers’ will have no choice but to embrace open access: if the people have any say in it, companies who don’t provide some sort of open access will be made obsolete altogether. Perhaps the universal database can start in literature first to gain credibility and show it can be made profitable, and then build from there. And last: 6) As my civil engineering professor once said: we’ve made so much progress from the age when information was stored on rock walls which can stand the test of weather and time; in the present day, a great deal more information can be stored in a single chip and erased with a fridge magnet. Maintenance and security of information, therefore, should also be a main focus.

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