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Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2007-05-18 06:12
Subject: [culture] Bits across the centuries
Security: Public
Tags:cool, culture, personal, tech, travel
As my flight was taxiing across the ramp to the terminal here in scenic D/FW International Airport, I found myself wondering about information density across the ages of history. (As one does.)

For example, how many bits of information were recorded in the 14th century, the last century prior to the invention of the printing press? How many bits in the 15th and 16th centuries? Likewise, with the advent of typewriters and the beginnings of electronic media in the 19th century, how many bits of information were recorded then? And how many years (or days, or hours) does it take the 21st century to accumulate the equivalent of all recorded information in those previous centuries?

I am travelling and thus my Google fu is weak today, but I throw the question open for consideration. I find the implications of this idea quite intriguing.

Now, off to Portland.
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Brian Dolton
User: tchernabyelo
Date: 2007-05-18 14:58 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm sure I have seen some (fairly notional) figures on this. I've definitely seen it quoted that the 17th ecentury was the last time a person could actually be reasonably expected to "know everything" (in a meaningful, if not literal, sense). True polymaths become rarer as the number of fields of knowledge, and the depth of background reading/information in those fields, increases.

The printing press, initially, didn't necessarily increase the amount of information that was there; what it did was make it accessible, as monasteries were all but plundered for historical manuscripts that could then be printed and dissemminated around what was an already lively intellectual network that extended across Europe (and with strong links to the Islamic world where many classical-era etxts, particularly on the sciences, had been preserved). cholars would then add their own commentaries on ancient works, and then dispute with one another, and thus academic publishing was born. There was a geneuine and serious (if niche) market for these things - if you're intereted in the way that knowledge "escaped" in that era, you can do a lot worse than read Lisa Jardine's excellent "Worldly Goods".

The amount of information now recorded in and about society is staggering. Criminal investigations recently ahve demonstrated that it is one thing to record the information, quite another to process it - just because CCTV footage exists doesn't mean you can find what you're looking for with any certainty. This is certainly an argument to mollify fears of the encroaching, all-monitoring, super-state - whence come the army of bureaucrats neded to actually process and monitor all the recorded information? Sure, thre are sophisticated filters for email and even phone traffic, but equally there are ways to get round those filters...

Sorry, veering into a different area. It's a writer thing :)
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Jen Volant: eyes
User: tacithydra
Date: 2007-05-18 15:49 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:eyes
I've definitely seen it quoted that the 17th ecentury was the last time a person could actually be reasonably expected to "know everything" (in a meaningful, if not literal, sense).

An interesting addendum to this is that someone just published an article in Science on authorship in science. They analyzed over 2 million scientific papers from 1955 to 2000, and as many or more patents (I think), and found that single-authored research or patents are growing rarer and rarer. As well, the multi-authored papers are picking up more authors - the groups are getting larger. The papers with multiple authors are also getting increasingly higher citation rates (a pretty good proxy for level of contribution) than single-authored papers.
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ruralwriter
User: ruralwriter
Date: 2007-05-18 15:08 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I would swear that I've recently seen an article (most likely in relatively popular media - CNN? NY Times? LiveScience?) that said, despite ever-increasing technological innovation in electronic storage, the world's memory needs are outpacing its current electronic storage capacity (in part, because we generate so much paper data).

But can I find it? No. Anyway, I think some suppositions could be perhaps drawn from the article about data density. But, alas...I am but a mere Google Fu grasshopper....

Now I'm starting to wonder if I dreamed the article.
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Bob
User: yourbob
Date: 2007-05-18 16:00 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've seen a graphic representation of this somewhere so I know "it's out there".

In the meantime a couple of interesting bits I found while looking for it:

from http://johnhdoe.com/me/b2.php?m=200206

Computational Universe
Nature:

"Seth Lloyd, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, has estimated how much information the Universe can contain, and how many calculations it has performed since the Big Bang.

"Lloyd views every process, every change that takes place in the Universe, as a kind of computation. One way of looking at the exercise is to imagine setting up a simulation of the Universe, particle for particle, on a hypothetical super-duper computer."

He estimates 1090 bits of data, 10120 calculations done so far, if we count everything.
________________________________________

Not quite what you're asking, but might be useful:
A History of Information Storage and Retrieval (Hardcover)
by Foster Stockwell (Author)
________________________________
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lt260
User: lt260
Date: 2007-05-18 20:28 (UTC)
Subject: The Rate of Accumulation of Human Knowledge
Somewhere on the net is an article about the rate of when human knowledge doubles. In short, this article stated that the sum of all human knowledge used to take centuries to double but, at the current rate of accumulation, it will take less than 24 hours to do so at some point before 2050. In 1998, it was estimated at five years (http://www.aaas.org/spp/yearbook/chap1.htm).

Then again, the Christians/Muslims and other religious fanatics could usher in a new dark age where the sum of all human knowledge decreases.
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User: joycemocha
Date: 2007-05-19 13:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Okay. You've just given me my Tuesday morning warmup for my two morning classes.

Just think, starting at 7:30 am, you may feel burning ears as 35 middle school students up on the Mountain start mumbling about the evil stuff that Mrs. RW is requiring them to think about first thing in the morning...either that, or they'll love the concept.

Shall I attribute it?
[Error: Irreparable invalid markup ('<evil,>') in entry. Owner must fix manually. Raw contents below.]

Okay. You've just given me my Tuesday morning warmup for my two morning classes.

Just think, starting at 7:30 am, you may feel burning ears as 35 middle school students up on the Mountain start mumbling about the evil stuff that Mrs. RW is requiring them to think about first thing in the morning...either that, or they'll love the concept.

Shall I attribute it? <evil, snarky grin>
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-05-19 22:58 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Attribute in good health!
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Lawrence M. Schoen: Publicity shot
User: klingonguy
Date: 2007-05-19 14:49 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Publicity shot
This is an ongoing bit in one of autopope's novels (I'm thinking Accelerando, but I can't swear to it. Of course he quickly goes off the charts as whole planets in our solar system are converted into infotronium or some such. Good book.
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