Following his excellent nano-technology lecture - at a Skeptics in the Pub meeting - in Nottingham last night, I engaged in some follow-up email correspondence with leading expert Mike Fay of Nottingham University. Mike very kindly answered some questions last night and some more today regarding how much physical space a typical book takes up once scanned and stored electronically.
I found the result of our joint calculations pretty mind-blowing. And so I thought I’d share the experience here on Best Thinking, in advance of publishing them in my forthcoming book on internet dating (ID) the provenance of words and phrases.
Google's Metre Cube Mega Library
By April 2013, Google's database encompassed more than 30 million scanned books. All of these books, when paper bound, require the space provided by two unusually large university libraries. We know this, because, for example, Cambridge University Library holds 15 million books.
Now for something amazing: if we assume, quite reasonably, that the average scanned book is not typically longer or more picture heavy than the average E-book - that you might download to read on a Kindle or laptop - all 30 million books in Google's amazing Library Project database can be stored on some 134 terabytes of storage disk space. So what does that mean exactly, you might wonder?
Well, at the time of writing, a two terabyte palm sized external memory drive costs about £80, which means that 67 of these - costing a total of £5360 – can together house 30 million digital, retrievable and readable books, complete with all their images and text.
Currently, a typical two terabyte stand-alone-external drive is about eight inches long, six inches wide and five inches high. If you were to build a neat little block with 67 of them, and then download onto the lot the 30 million books currently scanned and stored by Google, your newly constructed electronic super-library would occupy less physical space than a one metre cube.
Just think about it. Which is the preferable option for a university with genuine green credentials: (a) two massive buildings burning up huge amounts of energy in heating, cooling, lighting, running computers, photocopying, maintenance, re-furbishment costs, transport and travel pollution by employees, visitors etc. or (b) a one meter cube of 30 million, books, which can be accessed, remotely, by anyone, anywhere, in the world for next to nothing?
Is that a University in Your Pocket?
Perhaps bricks and mortar libraries have had their massive carbon footprint day in the age of the, so called, "green university"? After all, they were, for example, only good for hiding the first known book to use the word Google. And once the library has gone completely digital - so that we can better find what we are looking for with search engine technology - why on Earth would we need expensive and polluting physically present universities? Really, it might not make good business sense for universities to invest, or borrow, money right now if they are planning on using it to pour more concrete to build more environmentally destructive physical infrastructure. In light of what is already over our horizon by way of the current Harvard, MIT, Stanford and Berkeley Pocket University, we should save money now by helping out our environment by planting more trees, rather than unnecessarily pouring more expensive, ugly and polluting concrete upon the places they used to inhabit as the lungs of our planet.
The future of the university will be geener than it is now. The future will be one of students and their professors freed from the expensive turn up and sit down stifling built environment. Rather,it will be one of learn anywhere anytime video lectures, enhanced by instant and unlimited access to many millions of digitally archived valuable documents and books.
Technological advances have not yet reached the point where the mass storage and retrieval of books can be done at the nano level, but when it does there will be no need to connect to the internet to get access to over 50 million books, perhaps a 100 million, because you will be carrying them all around in your pocket, along with a whole degree course worth of hour long videos of key lectures given by the world's most influential experts, on your subject of choice.
The Ark of Knowledge
Undoubtedly, in the future, the next generation of internet search engine will take what Google has learnt from its hand-written word image translation project, and Google Translate project, to create a search engine that is capable of searching on every single book and article in its library regardless of the language it is written in. The user will then be able to find, using their own language, any relevant text, instantaneously translated into their language of choice.
All the printed, out of copyright, knowledge in the world will be at our fingertips.
Moreover, if new universal copyright agreements can be reached, for the remaining 80 million books in the world, so that all of the more recently published books can be fully scanned and put in Google's library, we will all have at our fingertips The Ark of Knowledge. From that will follow The Mini-Enlightenment as we begin to discover all the hidden knowledge that will reveal many myths and fallacies about who discovered what and when.
Ready to submit your essay for marking? There's an app. for that.
Google's Universal Pocket University, might not even be on the drawing board yet; indeed the app writers are leading the game right now as ancient authors did in the past, but it will be, because Google now has the largest and best library the world has ever known. When the university follows, it most likely won't cost you the price of lifelong debt chained to a bricks-and-mortar-board student loan. Study will take place anywhere on Earth from anywhere else, including the workplace and comfort of your own home. Or you could, if you wanted to, sit under a tree in a shady glade and study. You know like Aristotle and his students did on Mysea and Lesbos more than 2,000 years ago. Now that's one way to have a genuinely "green university".
Mike Sutton is the author of Nullius in Verba the book that will subject you to a significant bombardment of newly discovered - previously hidden book evidence - to prove it far more likely than not that Charles Darwin plagiarised the theory of natural selection from Patrick Matthew and then lied when he claimed no prior knowledge of it.