The Library of Babel

The Library of Babel is a short story by Jorge Louis Burges – in 1941 – about an infinite library, containing all the knowledge of the world.  The Library of Babel is utterly wonderful concept to bibliophiles and futurists like myself. (Infinite books! Infinite knowledge!) It has also been a source of inspiration for many other authors and artists, including my favourite, Terry Pratchett’s L-space, the unreal dimension that connects all the libraries in the world, which you can read about here.

Of course, you can have too much of a good thing, and in the story – just like in the Biblical Tower of Babel myth that inspired it – people descend into madness, anarchy and destruction as they are exposed to all the knowledge – and all the possible knowledge – of the world. (You can watch a narrated version of the story in the video below.)

It does not take any great leap of understanding to draw a comparison between Burges’ foresight and the current World Wide Web, the common library of all existing human knowledge – and the source of much future knowledge in the form of self-directed artificial intelligence. It also does not take any great leap to understand Burges’ warning about how knowledge, like power can be dangerous.

The World Wide Web already contains vastly more knowledge than any one human mind could ever grasp in a lifetime. We have already seen how powerful – both creatively and destructively powerful – this knowledge can be. Will this power destroy us, overtake us or empower us?

And, as we approach the singularity, the point where the collective artificial intelligence that “lives” in the globally connected World Wide Web surpasses the collective intelligence of all of humanity and takes on a life of its own, as an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful entity – could we even end up worshiping our own creation as a god?

What are your thoughts on the Library of Babel and the future of human knowledge?


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