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The Future of Digital Books 256

Tabercil writes "The New York Times has an article about the mass scanning of books, which argues that actions such as Google's Book Search project are an inevitable outgrowth of the internet." From the article: "Scanning technology has been around for decades, but digitized books didn't make much sense until recently, when search engines like Google, Yahoo, Ask and MSN came along. When millions of books have been scanned and their texts are made available in a single database, search technology will enable us to grab and read any book ever written. Ideally, in such a complete library we should also be able to read any article ever written in any newspaper, magazine or journal. And why stop there?"
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The Future of Digital Books

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  • E-academic books (Score:5, Insightful)

    by apathy maybe ( 922212 ) on Sunday May 14, 2006 @11:33PM (#15332291) Homepage Journal
    What I would like to see is academic books in an electronic format (on a disc distributed with the hard-copy perhaps) so that I could search the text for a phrase or quote that I did not get the page number for. This would make referencing much easier. Of course having a lot of newspapers and books online from other countries also aids academic researching.
    • by golodh ( 893453 ) on Sunday May 14, 2006 @11:43PM (#15332336)
      See e.g.:

      -MIT's Open Courseware at: []

      -Textbook revolution at []

      -Physiscs texts at: ges []

      -The assayer at []

      -Open content at gy/OpenContent/opencontent.htm []

      I also know a number of econometric and statistics texts that are also available as free Ebooks, but they are of interest only to specialists.

      • And there's probably thousands more web sites like this containing e-books. I think this illustrates that there's absolutely no need for an entity such as google to create a central repository of such resources. What's needed are open document standards and a better system for indexing and searching for these documents on the internet. I think the prospect of an entity such as google having a monopoly or attempting to gain a monopoly over such resources is really quite frightening.
        • Two points: 1) Some people might think that the few examples I put up show that a further repository is un-needed. I disagree 2) Some people might fear a monopoly position by Google. I disagree again.

          Ad (1) Do we need additional etexts?

          The list of e-texts on the sites shown might look impressive, but it isn't really. It's a convenient aid to a decent university library but nothing more. In addition it took me quite some time to find these sites, and it took the site builders untold hours to put their si

    • A good number of computer programming books at the local Borders have a PDF copy of the book on a CD in the back, convenient for searching and such.
    • by reporter ( 666905 ) on Monday May 15, 2006 @01:54AM (#15332711) Homepage
      There are two types of books: cold (paper-based) books and cozy (paper-based) books.

      Examples of cold books are the books that you use at work. You have no attachment to these books. They are there to provide information.

      Digital books will wipe out the market for cold books. Digital book have one crucial advantage over cold books. You can use a search engine to search the content of a digital book.

      In the bad old days, an investment analyst may have remembered reading an insightful analysis about hedging. She wants to re-read the analysis but, unfortunately, cannot remember which bloody book contained the analysis.

      In the present day, that same analyst can just use a search engine to find the precise book by quickly scanning the list of books that she has read.

      The opposite of cold books is cozy books. These are books that you read while you are curled up in a comfy sofa or bed. As you sip hot chocolate spiked with whipped cream, you devour every word of the book. You lovingly flip the pages as you quickly follow the heroine of your chick-lit novel.

      No computer or search-engine will ever replace the cozy books. There will always be a market for cozy books. The phrase, "curling up with your high-performance notebook computer popping up page after page of the novel", just does not have that same cozy feel.

      Note that the notions of "cozy books" and "cold books" are relative. A female engineer may consider a book about advanced quantum physics to be a "cozy book" for leisure reading, but a middle-aged housewife may consider a romance novel to be a "cozy book". The point is that digital books will never eliminate all paper-based books simply because cozy books will continue to survive in the digital age.

      • I wholeheartedly agree. I find it very tiring to read books on screen (no matter how good the dot pitch gets) and I thoroughly enjoy reading books in my living room.

        Paper books will continue to be popular until the paper is too expensive (scarce) to print them. by then hopefully there will be a digital solution that "feels" similar to the real thing. (a small folding tome consisting of two pages facing each other, which displays digital text at 600 DPI, mimicing the coloring and fiber of paper... :)

      • PDAs (as they get to larger sizes) will do away with cozy books as well. Although it will require a generation dying off before they're done away completely.
      • Paper might have high resolution, but it has poor contrast ratio, doesn't scroll, is unsearchable, is uncopypasteable, takes up physical space, and is a fire risk. There's a generation gap here - you think "cozy" books are best on paper because that's what you grew up with. Younger people are used to reading everything on screens. I read far more novels on screen than on paper and don't find it "cold" at all.
        • by achurch ( 201270 ) on Monday May 15, 2006 @06:25AM (#15333236) Homepage
          Paper might have high resolution, but it has poor contrast ratio,

          Compared to a direct-light display such as an LED or CRT screen, perhaps, but I'd argue that the contrast is more than adequate. I personally find direct-light displays less comfortable to look at for long periods than reflected-light displays such as paper, but I suppose you can get used to either one; and I'll grant that the lack of a built-in light source can be a problem in dark areas, if you happen to read in such places frequently.

          doesn't scroll, is unsearchable, is uncopypasteable,

          Why would you need to do any of these? Maybe this is the generation gap, but at 28 and having read hundreds of paper novels, I've never once felt the need for any of those while reading. There have been a few occasions when I've wanted to go back and find a particular quote in a novel I read years ago, but that's a different usage pattern from ordinary reading--and incidentally, I've found that when I do need to search, my brain does a remarkably good job of finding the right place as I flip through the pages.

          takes up physical space,

          I guess if you've succumbed to the "gotta-get-em-all" Pokemon mindset, this could be an issue. I'm living in a 45m^2 apartment in Japan with two medium-size bookshelves, and already have plenty of books (around 150 at rough count) to occupy what free time I have--when I want more, I just sell some of the ones I already own.

          and is a fire risk.

          As is that CPU you're overclocking. No, seriously--the chance of a fire actually starting from or due to a book is probably about the same as, if not less than, the chance of a fire starting from your PC or other electronic equipment. If your apartment or house is stacked from floor to ceiling with paper books, maybe you'd have something to worry about if a kitchen fire or the like spread, but in ordinary circumstances it's really not something that merits particular concern.

          I'd also add that aside from having resolution that exceeds that of electronic displays, paper books don't need electricty to read, don't suffer from bugs or require updates, and survive ordinary wear and tear much better than electronic readers (I've got a book on Japan dating from 1907--a few photograph pages are no longer glued in they way they should be, but on the whole it's in fine shape).

        • by Aladrin ( 926209 ) on Monday May 15, 2006 @06:34AM (#15333246)
          I seem to be the odd one here. When I was young, I read a TON of paper books. But I hated 1 thing about them: Losing my page.

          For a long time, I used a bookmark that clipped to the back of the book and used an arm to mark the page. The only way to lose the page with this was to drop it from quite a height while it was near the start of the book. So it worked fairly well for my problem.

          But then, when I was about 18 or so, I installed an ebook reader on a Pilot. (Yes, before they adopted the name Palm.) After the initial discomfort, the fact that I NEVER lost my place in the book had me hooked. I've used a Palm device and 2 different Pocket PC devices since then, and I definitely prefer electronic reading. I would actually be willing to spend $500 on an ebook reader that does what -I- want. That means reading any format I throw at it, including LIT, Palm, RTF, HTML, anything. (IT doesn't have to support DRM tho. I won't be buying any books with DRM.) I think it'll be a while before I find this.
          • ... including LIT, Palm, RTF, HTML, anything. (IT doesn't have to support DRM tho. I won't be buying any books with DRM.) ...

            Don't forget Newton books (as are freely available without DRM on Newton's Library []) and Z-Machine works (as are freely available without DRM on the Interactive Fiction Archive []). I definitely want at least these two formats in my dream e-book reader. A few other less common ones (like TADS, for example) would also be nice, but I'd personally settle for the ones you list plus PDF,

        • Whats really missing here is a 'killer' product that allows one to 'curl up in a sofa' and read, laptops are too cumbersome, e-book readers and tablet pcs are akward as well, sure a laptop on a coffe table is great for 'curling up' to watch video but, text which needs to be aligned to the way your head is pointing for maximum decypherability doesn't work so well.

          You say it's a generation gap, but honestly, you're a geek or a nerd, not a 'normal' gen 'Y'er. Normal kids are using their computers to play vide
      • No computer or search-engine will ever replace the cozy books.

        I disagree. I collect non-drm'd books and keep them on my PDA. I like having them with me so that I can read them on a whim. Otherwise I would have to drag a cubic metre of decaying paperbacks around with me.

        In the past I have lent paper books to people and never got them back. Electronic information is better for me and I don't lose anything by not having it on paper.

        But I won't agree to DRM. I may as well get the paper copy then.

    • by Instine ( 963303 )
      Of course having a lot of newspapers and books online from other countries also aids academic researching.

      Not to get too tree huggin liberal here, but I think it may serve a greater purpose than even that. Nationalistic politics has been the bane of this world for a long time. Being able to chat with folks from arouns the world IS bringing people together (and bringing out the worst in a few nutters). But being able to read papers from other countires is helping people see just how similar the people of
  • free login? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MikeFM ( 12491 ) on Sunday May 14, 2006 @11:34PM (#15332297) Homepage Journal
    Will all these books and articles require we login to view them first? I think having every book, article, movie, song, etc available for use anytime is a great idea and important for society but I don't want to have to login and leave a paper trail of everything I'm looking at. Searching should be powerful, access private, and making payments for work still under copyright easy and affordable.
    • Re:free login? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by patio11 ( 857072 ) on Sunday May 14, 2006 @11:59PM (#15332396)
      Yeah, thats not happening. If you've got content-for-money and don't want to trust the tip-jar model, you need some sort of system to separate people who have paid from people who haven't paid. You could take pains to totally split your content server from your authentication server. Imagine a carnival where you buy tickets in one booth and buy access to attractions with tickets only. The booth selling you tickets only needs to know that your money is green and that you are buying some service in the carnival, and the booth letting you into Heather's House of Horrors only knows that you've got a ticket whose hash is valid. However, assuming that someone actually *cares* that you went into HHH, they'll just get your subscription and ask the HHH attendant, and you've got no guarantee he doesn't remember you. In the same manner, the feds could always just subpoena server logs and grep for your IP address.

      The other problem is that no content provider, and few customers, actually benefits from this system. They use it at the carnival because they don't trust their minimum-wage employees with money and some other ancillary benefits of microcurrencies (makes you spend more than you intended, what have you). But for an online business, "what our customers buy" is not just useful, its their *lifeblood*. Take a look at the value Amazon gets out of cross-referencing buying habits, both in aggregate ("People Who Like Harry Potter like ...") and specific to you (recommenations, which are basically taking the aggregate data and splicing that with what they know about you from past purchases). Heck, their database is probably as important to them as their tech or brand name.

      Nor do most customers care. There was never a golden age of privacy in commercial transactions, since you always have to arrange delivery of the goods and payments and that always leaves records (even if they're only memories). Even if there had been a golden age, hello, credit cards, supermarket value cards, and data mining software. Its dead and most people couldn't care less. Sure, you can scare people a little with "Dubya and the NSA can subpoena your library records" but that ceases to scare (mostly because the dangers of it are vastly oversold and the usual suspects warn about this every two weeks whether they need to or not -- see the +5 mods which are probably already above and below this comment).

    • by Simonetta ( 207550 ) on Monday May 15, 2006 @12:11AM (#15332441)
      I've scanned about ten of my favorite books a few years ago and have put them into my Kazaa shared folder for anyone to download.

            In three years there hasn't been one single download of any of these books. Maybe my tastes are completely different from the people who use Kazaa, or, maybe it hasn't occurred to the KaZaaistanis to actually look for books on what is primarily a music downloading library.
          I've offered Gore Vidal, P.J. O'Rourke, Trevanian, Harry Turtledove, and others, but again, no one has the slightest interest.

            So whenever you hear a book publisher claim that putting books online for download for free would devastate the industry, just remember that the people who read books are definitely not the people who download files from P2P resource libraries. The claim that online downloading of so-called e-books for low price or even free would hurt the book publishing industry seems on its face to be reasonable and prudent, but in reality it is totally without merit. The people who buy books and read them don't download files from Kazaa and the P2P filesharers don't read anything without having some teacher require it as part of their final grade. They'll download comic books, yes, maybe, but actual books of coherent text and prose, not a chance.

          Such it is as it is. And I don't believe that this situation will change in the coming years as more people outside of the geek community discover the P2P global library resources that are available.
      • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Monday May 15, 2006 @01:37AM (#15332682)
        In three years there hasn't been one single download of any of these books.
        I don't think that proves what you think it does. You don't think people like quality texts? Project Gutenberg [] uploads over 2 million e-texts each month! The reason is simple, people know to go there when they want certain kinds of texts. The odds of finding the books you want on Kazaa are so tiny, why would anybody try? But if it gained popularity, people would learn to search there. The numbers might never be huge, yet they still might be a sizeable percentage of the market for such books, which is what the publishing industry fears.
        • by jlarocco ( 851450 ) on Monday May 15, 2006 @02:21AM (#15332781) Homepage

          I always forget about Project Gutenberg. I think it'd be nice if some popular current authors would place some of their books there for free. I don't know how copyrights work in the publishing world, so I don't know if they're even allowed to, but it would be nice. Maybe not right after a book is published, but maybe a year or two after it goes on sale. That way most people who really want the book would already have bought it, and the price would be down enough so that it would be cheaper to buy it than use ink to print it at home.

          That wouldn't exactly work with technical and reference books, because their prices are usually relatively high, but maybe putting them up without figures or something would work.

          I guess there are people who would read entire books online, but I think a lot (most?) people would prefer to read things over a few pages on printed paper.

          It'd be nice, but I doubt it'll ever happen. Publishing companies are probably too paranoid about lost profit.

        • by mirkob ( 660121 ) on Monday May 15, 2006 @04:12AM (#15332985)
          Not all the publisher are scared by free distribution of theyr titles

          a good article is at []

          you could read the rationale of the publisher and many of his autors who offer free e-book to boost the selling of other e-book/books of the same author.

          trying to summarize: to them downloading a book when you are young and have few money could be the same that havig one from the local library, if you like the autor then, in the future when the money for some book will be a no-problem you will buy a lot.

      • P2P networks is the last place I'd look for a book (in fact, I wouldn't look there at all). You put your books in a wrong place. Right now all the music and movies are on P2P, and all the books are on the Web where they can be found via a plain search engine. This may change, but today it is this way.

        Perhaps if book publishers put the same kind of pressure to eradicate scanned books form the web, books will move to P2P networks. However I doubt they ever do: enough people prefer reading books from paper,

      • Your personal annecdote is good evidence in support of the idea that this resource would be used primarily as a research tool and not as a mechanism to displace the existing market for traditional boks.
      • maybe it hasn't occurred to the KaZaaistanis to actually look for books on what is primarily a music downloading library.

        Bingo. Kazaa has no significant ebook trade. The popular P2P network for ebook trading is Edonkey/Emule and by association, Kad. In my use of Emule for ebook downloads, I download a few books a week, and hundreds of people download my texts from me.

        Bittorrent is also occasionally good for large collections of texts (e.g., someone will just start up a torrent of 200 selected sci-fi text
        • Not forgetting that when you're using P2P it's always comforting to see the same file available from multiple sources - it's more likely to be real and it's a faster download. If you or the guy making the original comment scanned your own books and put them online these files would be pretty much unique until a few other people downloaded them. If the OC was scanning relatively popular books (which appears to be the case) there would be options from other people available which would look like more attracti
        • Sounds interesting. Have you contributing the text to Project Gutenberg? Anything printed before 1923 is public domain in the US, so you're not even breaking any laws :). For their records they need you to submit scans of the front and back of the title page (they require this for all books, so they won't get sued by people who claim they're using modern editions).

          I've contributed a lot of books to PG, so I know the system fairly well. Let me know if you're interested.
      • Raw scans suck. Did you process you book scans into some useful form? OCR with any artwork taken into account and included properly is the way to go if you can't get original data files.
    • Re:free login? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Bender0x7D1 ( 536254 ) on Monday May 15, 2006 @12:17AM (#15332464)
      If we can get all of these things available for viewing, then overcoming the login will be the trivial aspect. We have a lot of anonymizing technologies and we have a lot of "convenience" techonologies such as "bugmenot" where you don't actually have to log in as yourself. This can eliminate the paper trail, obfuscate the paper trail, or reduce the trail to "there was some sort of file transfered, but it was encrypted".

      In addition, once the content is available at all, it can easily be copied. (For the same reasons real DRM is impossible.) Then we can set up an encrypted p2p network and serve it up anonymously. In the case of pure text, the storage space required is incredibly small, less than 1 MB for an entire book. So I can store about 9,000 books on a single DVD and over 500,000 on a hard drive and share it on an anonymous, encrypted p2p network. The small size also means bandwidth isn't a big issue for text.

      Bandwidth may be an issue for movies, but you can fit over 100 movies on a single hard drive, and as long as you don't want to watch the movie right at that moment, bandwidth for movies shouldn't be a problem either. (People download movies all the time over p2p.) With proper p2p, anonymizing and encryption, there is no information that can be gained about the actual information being transferred on the network.

      Searching shouldn't be a problem since we could adopt a hierarchical system similar to DNS but based on some library category system. Instead of .com and .org servers we could have psychology or physical sciences or music servers. They could tell you where to find the item in question and could index those works that are in their domain. (search.psychology.lib or maybe google.psychology.lib). A broad query could just hit multiple servers to look for the information. For our p2p model, we can use a central directory or a broadcast model for indexing.

      Copyright would be a nightmare since the holder of the copyright is the one that sets rates, and can charge different rates to different people. However, since different countries don't have the same rules regarding copyrights, you could access the material from a country where it wasn't copyrighted or where it has expired. This really isn't a solution, but it is a workaround.

      The biggest issue I see is that artists and authors have the rights to their own work and don't want to give it away - they like to get paid for what they have done. In addition, the storage cost for everything would be quite high. Maintaining petabytes of active storage is expensive and being able to serve it at a decent rate is also expensive, so there has to be some revenue model or at least public funding.
      • Re:free login? (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Simonetta ( 207550 )
        If we can get all of these things available for viewing, then overcoming the login will be the trivial aspect.

        I respectfully and humbly disagree. There is nothing trival about overcoming any login or technologically-based restriction for the vast majority of educated and interested people who could be persuaded to use and download on-line books.

        Unless people have a solid background in computer systems and network software techniques and stategies, they will be blocked by even
      • Re:free login? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by MikeFM ( 12491 )
        It's not that you can't get around logins - it's that they hinder your effort and are often enough to keep a user from bothering at all. I dunno the last time I actually looked at an article on the NY whatever it is because they want me to login and I don't want to bother. My comment was largely a barb at them. ;)

        I dunno about your claim that you can store 100 movies on a drive. Maybe if you have a really big drive or you compress your movies down to some shitty quality. My experience is that a 300GB drive
  • by BadAnalogyGuy ( 945258 ) <> on Sunday May 14, 2006 @11:37PM (#15332308)
    What I always found interesting about the Star Trek universe was the concept of a 'replicator'. You press a button and speak your order (e.g. Tea, Earl Grey, Hot) and get your order instantiated out of seemingly nothing. What would the consequences of such a device be if we could replicate anything at no cost? Not just information, but physical objects like cars and houses too.

    Would we do away with all human suffering? Hunger wiped off the map? Who would endeavor to explore space or do research into new materials and computation? Would money be useless?

    We have today costless information. As time rolls on, we'll have more of it. Those who currently own that information are slowly but surely losing their grip on it as it is becoming easier to replicate it with no cost.

    The course of action thus far has been to build more protections into the information itself that prevents it from being copied easily. Will the same thing happen with actual replicators when they are invented?
    • What would the consequences of such a device be if we could replicate anything at no cost?

      You would be immediately executed, and the device confiscated for a number of potential future paths.
    • We have today costless information

      So there is no cost for transferring information to electronic media? No cost to delivering Broadband Internet access to every house? No cost to store information?

      COOL, what Universe do you live in? And can we all get a visa?
      • I think the point is that the marginal cost of doing most of these things is pretty much nil. Scanning the books is definitely not free, but when you've got hundreds of GB of space, and the bandwidth to download hundreds of MB of porn a day, the cost of downloading a few hundred KB of text with your already paid-for broadband is small enough to be imperceptible, and thus to be, in the mind of the consumer, free. Which was the original point.
    • by patio11 ( 857072 ) on Monday May 15, 2006 @12:08AM (#15332431)
      We already produce enough food to feed the world, and there are still starving people. Whats the contradiction? Bad government. Take a look anywhere in the world where you see starving people and you will see a well-fed army/secret police which is appropriating all the food supply (including the *prodigious* amounts of aid the well-fed countries of the world throw at the problem), and, likely as not, the disruption in food production which triggered the famine was probably brought on by stupidity or deliberate sabotage in the first place (either democide-by-famine in the Soviet Ukraine, or "hey, I've got an idea, lets throw all the white farmers off their land, then we'll give it away to our political base -- no possible downside!").

      The real world introduction of replicators would see well-governed nations (which are mostly already rich) get even richer, and poorly-governed nations (which are mostly already poor) get even poorer as their governments confiscated their replicators and used them for the benefit of the power-elite (more phasers to oppress the masses and cheaper rates on ballots for one-party elections! Sweet!). And lots of Western academics would say "See, this is why we need socialism, look at how capitalism produces rich and poor people and inequitably distributes the wealth of the world", because academics who have never actually had their stuff ganked by a totalitarian mob have a very rozy view of the whole process.

      • Not even bumbling beuracracy could keep people in poverty were the GP's replicator a reality. At some point it becomes impossible to hold the masses down, hopefully we'll reach that point within our lifetimes*.

        When resources are no longer scarce, then socialism will be inevitable. Only the greedy will think otherwise, and they'll be dismissed rather quickly... There's no need for a Walmart when your neirghborhood EE can just set up a replicator.

        *if you're really old, sorry but you're outta luck.
        • Resources - as everybody ought to know by now - are always limited. A replicator working at "no cost" as the OP envisioned is therefore impossible. Matter can not be created out of nothing, and to transform matter into something useful will consume energy.

          You can transform the nutrients of the soil, a seed and water into a tomato while using solar energy when you plant and care for that seed. The matter contained in the tomato must come from somewhere, a certain amount of energy will be needed to accompli

          • Physics != Politics (Score:3, Interesting)

            by ahfoo ( 223186 )
            Here's a quote from a guy who considered himself qualified to discuss politics with authority. He seems to think that if we had automated means of producing objects of desire and need that we would essentially be in a position to do away with class in society.

            There is only one condition in which we can imagine managers not needing subordinates, and masters not needing slaves. This condition would be that each (inanimate) instrument could do its own work, at the word of command or by intelligent anticipation
      • You overestimate the uniformity in thought amongst academics and underestimate their breadth of experience. I can assure you, the academics I've had the pleasure of meeting in rural Africa are well aware of the things you so dismissively think they haven't experienced merely by fact of being academics--and their views are not so divergent from those of the supposedly fat and rich academics in cushy jobs in the U.S.

        I would direct you to any APSA [] event at which you may find illumination on this topic.
      • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) ( 193358 ) on Monday May 15, 2006 @04:39AM (#15333037) Homepage Journal
        Have you noticed how Internet access makes smart people smarter and stupid people stupider?
    • What I always found interesting about the Star Trek universe was the concept of a 'replicator'. You press a button and speak your order (e.g. Tea, Earl Grey, Hot) and get your order instantiated out of seemingly nothing. What would the consequences of such a device be if we could replicate anything at no cost? Not just information, but physical objects like cars and houses too.

      Given that whatever you create CANNOT result in an increase of energy, there would be limits to this "technology".

      If it takes 1 ga

      • Given that whatever you create CANNOT result in an increase of energy, there would be limits to this "technology".

        If it takes 1 gallon of gas to drive this thing to make 2 gallons of gas, well, you can see the problem there.

        Yes but what if it takes 1 litre of Captain Kirk piss and produces 1 pound of gold?

        Something to think about...
      • Yeah, but really, the problem with energy is in moving it from place to place.

        If we can replicate, then presumably we've cracked the problem of turning energy to matter and back. If we start running out of energy, we convert some more matter into energy.

        If we start to run out of matter, we go get some from any of the many celestial bodies nearby. It's not like Jupiter is doing anything terribly important with it's extra matter (I'm assuming that if we can do all that other stuff, why not space travel as w
        • If we can replicate, then presumably we've cracked the problem of turning energy to matter and back

          Not necessarily. I'm not a trekky, so I don't know how these things work in detail, but there's two different ways they could work. Firstly, by transforming energy into matter, or secondly, by transmuting one type of matter in to another.

          Besides, there may well be incredible inefficiencies in the technology. It may be efficient to generate matter from energy, but trying to reverse the process may be sign
    • What I always found interesting about the Star Trek universe was the concept of a 'replicator'. You press a button and speak your order (e.g. Tea, Earl Grey, Hot) and get your order instantiated out of seemingly nothing.

      Do we look like seemingly nothing to you, sir? I'm insulted and demand an apology.

      - The Tiny Dwarfs Working in Replicators Syndicate (TDWRS)
    • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) <> on Monday May 15, 2006 @12:24AM (#15332490) Homepage Journal
      I'm guessing you've never played Second Life []. The creator of any given object in Second Life can set bits that say whether or not you can copy/edit/sell that object. The game then enforces those bits. As it is done on the server and only the compiled textures and polys are sent to the client, there's no much you can do to get around this form of DRM. The end result is a pretty distopian vision of the future. You walk around in this world where you are free to conjure anything you want out of thin air, but you are prevented from using the things you see around you as a base for your creations by absentee content owners. Often an object of some beauty will be created by someone who has left the game entirely. There is absolutely no way for a regular player to get the DRM removed from the object so it can be reused. There are some players who release all their work with none of the DRM bits turned on, but they are few and far between. I can imagine a time where this ability to conjure things into existance will be provided to us in the real world using nanotechnology or some other new technology. Will our creations be DRM infested? Surely they will, because we all still live under the belief that we have some innate right control what others do with our creations.
      • The end result is a pretty distopian vision of the future. You walk around in this world where you are free to conjure anything you want out of thin air, but you are prevented from using the things you see around you as a base for your creations by absentee content owners.

        Really? The game watches what you're creating, and if it's too similar to something somebody else has already created, you get banned?

        Or is it rather that you can't take that other person's hard work, tweak it slightly, and call it your o
    • I was always more intrigued with the holodeck.

      Who needs to run about the ship, when all you need is in the holodeck?

      Fooling sensory systems has got to be cheaper than actually positioning physical molecules.
    • What would the consequences of such a device be if we could replicate anything at no cost?

      You're assuming we have limitless access to energy to power the thing, right?

      Personally, I foresee a rampant culture of hedonists and drug addicts. There are plenty of people who, given the ability to replicate anything on a desk at no cost, will ask for heroin or coke or porn without even thinking twice.

      Most of the rest will ask for bars of solid gold, because they're not smart enough to realize twelve million other p
    • by fireboy1919 ( 257783 ) <> on Monday May 15, 2006 @12:33AM (#15332513) Homepage Journal
      C.S. Lewis - the guy who wrote The Chronicles of Narnia wrote a book that addresses this idea in the beginning of his book, The Great Divorce, which is an allegory for Heaven and Hell...sort of.

      Anyway, his description of hell before judgement day is a place where people can make absolutely anything they want just by imagining it. People are imperfect, though, so their imaginings are also - and so nothing works great. Also, with no economic forces holding people together, bickering with neighbors drives people further and further away from each other (since they can always find a strech of land and think up a new house for it).

      It's an interesting notion.
    • What I always found interesting about the Star Trek universe was the concept of a 'replicator'. You press a button and speak your order (e.g. Tea, Earl Grey, Hot) and get your order instantiated out of seemingly nothing. What would the consequences of such a device be if we could replicate anything at no cost? Not just information, but physical objects like cars and houses too.

      Not only that, but what about using such a device to create items which are considered dangerous? What do gun control laws mean if a
      • Finally, if replicators can easily create new replicators, how can anybody possibly hope to keep such things from becoming widespread?
        Natural selection.
        Picture this: Some guy with a replicator ordering: "Plutonium, weapon grade, 50Kg".
        Now picture the look on his face when his newly replicated plutonium becomes supercritical only a few metres away from him.
        Nobody and their neighbours makes such a mistake twice.
      • Does anyone know if Star Trek (or other sci-fi) ever analyzed such issues?

        In Transmetropolitan, the Makers (essentially the same idea; a rather sentient machine that transforms matter into goods) had to be upgraded because they were creating drugs for their own consumption. IIRC, the machines were programmed to disallow recreation of copyrighted material or anything overly dangerous...but due to their sentience, some of the seedier ones just did as they pleased.
    • I recommend you read "Wetware" by Rudy Rucker. It explores the idea of what would happen if humans got a hold of replicator-like technology.
    • The course of action thus far has been to build more protections into the information itself that prevents it from being copied easily. Will the same thing happen with actual replicators when they are invented?

      If the current trend holds, we'll DRM the hell out of everything, be it physical or virtual, creating artificial scarcity to replace natural scarcity.

      Perhaps the current trend will not hold in the long run. But it could still be very ugly for a while. As I see it, the fundamental problem is that n

      • Exactly! No one seems to get this.
        If we had machines to make things out of thin air, WE WOULDN'T BE ALLOWED TO.
        The makers of Earl Grey tea would enforce their copyright and keep you from duplicating it.

        If you want to see what a world with stuff-made-at-no-cost (or near zero cost, you've still got energy/bandwidth/etc), look at digital information. If I make an mp3 of my off key singings, I can effectively produce an infinite number of copies of it for just about no cost. Anyone can get their own copy for ju
    • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Monday May 15, 2006 @03:20AM (#15332900) Journal
      Replicators are good sci-fi and bad writers hate them. They ruin storylines. Check how many Star Trek stories have the crew facing limited supplies. How can that be? Replicate some more.

      Same is true with greed story lines. No federation level race can have any desire to gain precious jewels because they can be easily replicated in any amount you want. So none of this gold pressed latinum nonsense.

      The true concept of the replicator was rarely if ever used. In its full glory it would create a world without needs or wants. There would be no scarcity. Not of essentials and not of desirables. You could feed anyone and feed them on the finest foods.

      99% of writers could never accept this. They had to introduce limitations or else their story telling techniques could not work. What is the point of sharing a rare bottle with someone. Rare? Just upload its pattern and anyone who wants to can have it.

      So they introduced limits, like that it never tastes as good. HOW? Since replicators and transporters are similar technology either they create a perfect copy (and we been told time and time again that transporters do exactly that) or they do not and transporters would be useless.

      In Star Trek the true replicators would ruin a lot of the stories because there would be no limit on resources, there would be no value to rare metals and precious stones, there would be no scarcity. Now check how many ST story lines respect the original vision of the replicator.

      That is your clue as to the effect it would have on real life. All the current systems would collapse.

      • But things cannot be created from nothing. Energy and elements would be necessary to make the required molecules. I think Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson had a cool 'replicator' technology. As I recall, there was a 'pipe' that delivered the elements to your house and then your home device put them together into whatever you wanted. Basically there was an Element Service Provider. Wealthy people had a fat pipe, so they received many elements quickly and could make things very fast. Poor people could only afford
  • Break Stupid Laws (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mfh ( 56 ) on Sunday May 14, 2006 @11:41PM (#15332327) Homepage Journal
    Scanning books is ideal for rapid human progress. While we're at it, the concept of the library is also the epicenter of p2p. Yet, money -- better yet, grant money, restricts the natural development of humanity. Therefore if power is a weed, the ultimate power must be anarchy (or should I say LIBERTY).

    True story and a kind of interesting local example of what I'm talking about:

    I live on a very long dead-end road. They fixed the mouth of the road I live on a while back -- it used to be a fork but now it's a 3-way stop. There was once a very dangerous fork at the mouth of the street and some neighbours complained about drainage problems when it rained (then sent the flooding bill to the town hall). The town met on the subject, and figured they would simply kill two birds with one stone, so they rebuilt the fork to make it less dangerous when they reconstructed the drainage for the whole area.

    Because my street is LONG, the bulk of the people in the area live on the road that feeds up the NEW stop sign. When it was a fork, there was a YEILD sign so you could quickly look down the TINY side street and quickly go.

    You would understand if you could see the way they reconstructed this area -- it makes no sense whatsoever to have a stop sign there. It should be a thoroughfare.

    Guess how many people stop at the new stop sign now that the street has been "repaired"? About one in fifty.

    If a law is stupid, you are obligated to break it because that is the essence of what liberty is!
  • I don't get it. What are you trying to say by asking that? Are you arguing this is a bad idea and saying "Why stop there?" as in this wrong?

    This is a good idea and to be able to cross reference and get multi sources is wonderful. I'm all for it. Not to mention it's great for college students who just can't get to the library because they need to work to pay for the text books and food while at college. It's open 24/7. Of course the other end of the spectrum is it's an excuse to wait til the last
  • Globalization... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by crazyjeremy ( 857410 ) * on Sunday May 14, 2006 @11:43PM (#15332339) Homepage Journal
    I see this as simply another push for globalization. First, if America doesn't scan all the books, China or another country with lax copyright laws surely will. It will be simple to visit a site that contains all of this information even if it is in China (GO INTERNET!)
    The Chinese scanning factories, which operate under their own, looser intellectual-property assumptions, will keep churning out digital books. And as scanning technology becomes faster, better and cheaper, fans may do what they did to music and simply digitize their own libraries.

    Second, many countries will ban certain types of hardware (without macrovision, drm, etc) and other countries will get some of our business (at least mine) when we opt to purchase superior hardware that isn't limited. From the article again:
    But the reign of livelihoods based on the copy is not over. In the next few years, lobbyists for book publishers, movie studios and record companies will exert every effort to mandate the extinction of the "indiscriminate flow of copies," even if it means outlawing better hardware.

    Bottom line is some of us will always buy the DRM protected stuff and only a few of us will purchase overseas if necessary to ensure we can get a device that will truly record to or from anything. The scanning of millions of books, magazines and other articles will only push change in laws, but it will take some time. Whoever wins, I'm still going to be purchasing devices that aren't locked down, even if I have to learn a bit of Japanese, Chinese or Korean to do so.
    • by voice_of_all_reason ( 926702 ) on Sunday May 14, 2006 @11:53PM (#15332372)
      China or another country with lax copyright laws surely will.

      Yeah, but then we have to deal with crap like "Animar farm" and "The Bibre"
    • Another issue that strikes home is the issue of DRM - not as much from publishers as from governments.

      Digital format books are great in that many people can simultaneously view the same file at the same time; yet (not unlike the internet now), it wouldn't be too difficult for a government-librarian to selectively filter or block content. It's a little scary that if there was such a centralized database, it could be filtered and no-one would know. Still, such a library, even if filtered, could still benefi

    • First, if America doesn't scan all the books, China or another country with lax copyright laws surely will.

      There's an entertaining novel written just over a century ago called "Three Men in a Boat (and not to mention the dog)". In the forward to the final edition the author complains about "Pirates in Chicago" taking advantage of being on the other side of the Atlantic to make large amounts of money from reprinting his book. The pirates are of course other media companies who sell reprints or format shift

  • by davidwr ( 791652 ) on Sunday May 14, 2006 @11:50PM (#15332359) Homepage Journal
    This is part of the move by the publishing industry to kill the resale market.

    OK, that is a bit cynical. However, for high-end items like college textbooks, constant revisioning, cd/book bundles, and book/exclusive-web-site bundles are already killing the resale market. In 5 years schools will simply purchase 1-semester licenses to online materials and tack it on to the tuition as a "class materials fee."
    • Universities are already largely irrelevant. It's what you put into it. If your only goal is to survive four years then make it rich you'll get the least from a formal education.

      Besides, sharing text books is how you make friends.

      I remember in my software engineering class we had to pick up a 150$ text book. [yeah I know, big spender]. So my project team just paid our shares and we brough the book with us to the classes and study groups.... works wonders.

  • by martonlorand ( 938109 ) on Sunday May 14, 2006 @11:53PM (#15332376) Homepage

    I personally dont like to read from the screen, and LOVE reading or listening to books on tape but theres pretty good tools out there to read the text for you in english like openbook.

    But I have a blind friend and certainly can see how something like this could help him, because I see how he struggles to find good books he can read and has to jokearound with his scanner just to read something that is not available electronically. He does good now, has two diplomas but he had his mom was scanning books for him like 24/7...

    Think outside the box a bit...

  • If there became an online library consisting of most if not all books, I would be willing to pay for a subscription. I believe that there is a large market of people that want unusual or hard to find in print books. This would allow people to search for these books. Along with helping that niche market, there would also be the vast benefit to researchers and college students. Why buy a book for 20 dollars just for one paper because your library doesn't have a copy when you can use a service with all the
  • Ideally, in such a complete library we should also be able to read any article ever written in any newspaper, magazine or journal. And why stop there?

    Let's leave no poem on a toilet paper or a speeding ticket unscanned!
  • The Times could start by making all their articles & commentary available at no cost.
  • is just communism. If you wrote a book for the sole fact that that is what you do, you're an author and you got compensation from the state (which is the people after all) in the form of food, clothing, entertainment and lodging stipends you'd be set. :-)

    I kid. Stick with what we know best. Capitalism with a side of cheating.

    As a soon to be published author who is making little money on the deal I don't see the big incentive for me to get all upset about my work being distributed. I mean I don't because
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Executives in Hollywood watches in awe as Google creates sequels of books with targeted advertisement and tailored endings that suits each individual users. "With this technology, we didn't have to do sequels of 60s, 70s and 80s movies that no one wants to pay $6 to watch, but tailor each sequel with targeted advertisement for each individual user." said an executive who wanted to remain anonymous. "It will be the golden crack pipe from Hollywood... everyone will want to get more of it." he continued.
  • ISBN Scan And Search (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Doug Dante ( 22218 ) on Monday May 15, 2006 @12:30AM (#15332504)
    I would love an "ISBN Scan and Search" Service where I could run my book's ISBN #s through a scanner, and search those in Google's (whomever's) database.

    I recently had to give a talk and the information I wanted to convey was scattered throughout about 50 books. I wasn't able to do a good job, and I desperately wanted to do a keyword search on each of them.

    This would be a great service for a library which would allow a patron to do a full text search on all books in the library.

    Imagine writing a paper on the literary impact of "The Beatles" or "Star Wars" scattered throughout diverse materials like romance novels or physics textbooks in a large library.
    • [scan and search in books] Imagine writing a paper on the literary impact of "The Beatles" or "Star Wars" scattered throughout diverse materials like romance novels or physics textbooks in a large library.

      So ... are arguing for or against that feature? :-)

  • Conspiracy Theories (Score:5, Interesting)

    by brotherash ( 4278 ) on Monday May 15, 2006 @12:58AM (#15332585) Homepage
    Digital information has certain properties that distinguish it from atomic information:

    1) It is infinitely easier to distribute.
    2) It is significantly easier to index.
    3) It is significantly more malleable.

    In most cases the digital-information-haves cast these properties as inherently benevolent in nature. Unfortunately this is not the case. These properties are instead morally neutral. While a universally accessible, fully indexed, fully accessible digital archive of all the books on earth sounds like an idea which on the whole will benefit humanity we can not ignore the darker side to digital information.

    1) Information that is infinitely easier to distribute can lead to infinite information being available. The more information there is available the more we depend on gatekeepers to provide us what is relevant.

    2) The index of information is a form of information in it's own right (meta information) which itself contributes to the glut of information previously mentioned.

    3) The more malleable information becomes the more it is subject to alteration. Each version of an altered document adds to the information glut leading us back to a greater dependency on information gatekeepers.

    As the technology for digital books develops and less people find books as convenient as their counterpart in the digital world people will inevitably begin replacing their books or simply stop buying printed books. I don't think this is as much a science fiction dream as it may sound. How many of you still read a printed newspaper?

    We may need no convincing to burn our books. They may never need to be outlawed. They will instead be subtly subverted by the insidious desire for "convenience". The kings of convenience will then be free to rule using the most powerful political tool in the information age: FUD.
  • yeah whatever (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ohzero ( 525786 ) <onemillioninchange&yahoo,com> on Monday May 15, 2006 @01:57AM (#15332719) Homepage Journal
    I can barely get through a slashdot briefing in a web browser, let alone war and peace.
    Noone reads ebooks as it is now, because a screen is an impractical medium for books.
    Indexing them all will be neato bambino for quick searches and whatnot, but most people don't want to be glued to a screen for that long. Besides, books smell cool and computers do not.
    • Re:yeah whatever (Score:2, Insightful)

      by MrRee ( 120132 )
      No body reads e-books? I read them all the time. I keep them handy on my Pocket PC phone for those times I'm stuck waiting for a doctor's appointment, subway, business travel, or other such normally dead time. After all, when was the last time you saw a magazine from this decade at a doctor's office?

      They aren't a substitute for paper--I still read paper books and subscribe to paper magazines like Asimov's Science Fiction. However, since I always carry my phone an e-book is easily accessable for those mo
  • by pintomp3 ( 882811 ) on Monday May 15, 2006 @01:59AM (#15332728)
    not that /. needs any more references to 1984, but this could make it a lot easier to alter the text. unless there were multiple databases controlled by sources with conflicting interests (some sort of checks and balances) or the database had some non-defeatable version tracking, how would you know that the content is genuine?
  • by Bombula ( 670389 ) on Monday May 15, 2006 @02:09AM (#15332750)
    I think one thing that separates books from DVDs and CDs is that books are their own content delivery system.

    With DVDs and CDs (ie: video and music) you need a hardware system to access the content. With a book, the hardware is in the pages and the binding. So when we're talking about e-books, we're talking about changing the playback hardware, not just the distribution channel for the content.

    This is important because for music and video the internet (file sharing) has only really altered the distribution channel for content, not the playback hardware.

    I think e-books have not taken off because the market likes the existing playback hardware: paper pages and binding. I don't think that is likely to change as long as prices for books remain affordable. Unless the point of production of the playback hardware shifts to the end-user (ie: a home book-binding color laser printer or something like that), this is likely to remain so. And even if such devices were possible, people would probably still buy 'the real thing'. After all, there have been home cappucino machines for a long time, yet Starbucks is booming. These are probably the main reasons why books and bookstores have been a booming business since the inception of the internet, and not the other way around.

    The situation may be different in places where books (and Starbucks) are not affordable, like in - say - Bangladesh. And this electronic resource will be wonderful for serving those communities. But giving such markets access to books electronically doesn't constitute any loss of sales since they aren't buyers in any case.

    For all of these reasons, I suspect this resource is going to be a fantastic research tool, but I doubt it is going to be a paradigm change so much as a subtle shift for the distribution of the written word.

  • old tech (Score:3, Insightful)

    by obnoxiousbastard ( 239578 ) on Monday May 15, 2006 @02:31AM (#15332807)
    I have tons of online help BS on my computer but when I really need to figure something out, I still reach for Kerningham's C book or Knuth's Art of Computer Programming.

    Sigh... I'm like sooo last century.
    • But what you need is an ebook reader. If you had an ebook reader you could reach for just as easily as your reference book but that weighed far less and was searchable, wouldn't you rather use that?
  • by brunes69 ( 86786 ) <slashdot.keirstead@org> on Monday May 15, 2006 @08:50AM (#15333571) Homepage
    I can't wait! []
  • This article goes to some length discussing the historical basis for copyrights and how those may or not still be valid for creative works in the 21st century as the cost of making and distributing copies has effectively gone to zero. The author comes to the conclusion that no matter what laws are made or desires are had by publishers (or authors) technologically, the "copy" has ceased to be acontrollable thing that revenues can be squeezed from.

    An interesting thing will be how authors and artists of the late 21st century will make their livings. Already many performing artists [musicians] are moving towarddistributing [] their recordings [] under CreativeCommons [] licenses that allow them to begenerally free to the public.* They then can increase their following and make a better living selling tickets to performances as well as taking donations and selling easy access []to their music.

    The 'donation' aspect of this new model is one that I find particularly interesting. It remains to be seen how it would work out, but I can imagine a day when a music group or author puts up a 'new album/book fundraiser' on their website. Fan donations could build until the cost of the production is met, at which point the group/author makes their work and provides it for download free of additional charges (as it has already been paid for). This "donations/payment upfront" model would strongly encourage increased production by artists (the purpose of copyright), while also providing a mechanism to support smaller/niche artists. I imagine that this model would not produce the huge incomes of current (<2%) superstars, but it should provide reasonable incomes for the vast majority of artists.

    As a example of this model in use is the musician "Cargo Cult []". I downloaded his albums (for free in 128kbps mp3 format) and listened to them on my MP3 player for several weeks. After a while I found that I really liked his music and went back to Magnatune and gave him $8 for the CD-Quality version of the tracks. Also, I sent him an email asking about his experience giving away his music under CreativeCommons. He replied back with a short message that basically said "Before I didn't make any money with my music, now I do." Where might we (and our culture) be if this was the dominant model.

    - Adam


    *Some, such as theAttribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike []license that I use for mywebsite []allow free use only for non-commercial uses.


1 Angstrom: measure of computer anxiety = 1000 nail-bytes