Friday, September 26, 2008

AI Inquisitors

While OCLC’s WorldCat Resource Sharing™ brings together and centralizes vast amounts of information and holdings, it is still a far cry from creating the world’s largest possible library consisting of all libraries fully networked together. This ideal World Wide Library, or WWL, would theoretically resemble the fictitious Library of Babel described by Jorges Luis Borges and would therefore encounter the same sort of problems as laid out by Mr. Borges. In “The Library of Babel” Mr. Borges describes what amounts to as a seemingly infinite library that contains all the possible pieces of information, including all the possible combinations of alphabets and characters known to humans. While this may seem like an ideal to humans, Mr. Borges warns us against developing something like this because it would have some inherent problems that would render the holdings useless. Developing a WWL that recorded all the library holdings in the world would develop a system very similar to Mr. Borges’ Library of Babel and would be in danger of encountering the same problems described by Jorges Luis Borges.
One of the major problems inherent in the Library of Babel as described by Mr. Borges is that because there is so much information stored in the Library of Babel, it becomes near impossible to find anything.
"There are official searchers, inquisitors. I have seen them in the performance of their function: they always arrive extremely tired from their journeys; they speak of a broken stairway which almost killed them; they talk with the librarian of galleries and stairs; sometimes they pick up the nearest volume and leaf through it, looking for infamous words. Obviously, no one expects to discover anything."
Obviously these human inquisitors, or librarian searchers, are far too slow to actually find something from within the vast holdings of this library, and a WWL would contain so many holdings that it would pose a similar problem. While there would be computer help in searching in the form of WorldCat’s search tools in their database, it seems like it would still be difficult to sort through all the information available. What would be needed is the next great progression in computers and technology: Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Conventional computers seem powerful because they can compute billions of simple calculations in sequence within a second, which means that they work extremely fast. But speed is not always everything. Humans are much slower at doing these simple calculations, but nearly billions of neural pathways can be used at the same time, giving us the ability to have and follow more complicated thoughts. The ability to simulate human thoughts and emotions in computers, known as artificial intelligence, is still in its infancy but has the potential of opening up a wide array of applications. By combining the thought pattern of humans (whether it is by using neural networks or some other AI methodology) and the speed of computers, one could make a very useful search tool. This could be the equivalent of making an AI inquisitor, which would be similar to an intelligent agent that could go out into the vast holdings and rapidly search for and find information that it knew was relevant. Having a search tool like this would enable us to use a vast library system and would therefore enable us to develop a large WWL that resembled the Library of Babel.
Unfortunately it seems like that sort of AI inquisitor is a long way from being developed, so as yet, the problem of actually being able to find anything in the Library of Babel and the WWL still persists and hinders the actual development of such a library system, whether or not WorldCat Resource Sharing™ could really be developing such a network.

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