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April 23, 2004
Brewster Kahle on Universal Access to Human Knowledge
When Brewster Kahle sees a problem -- preferably a big, hairy, audacious problem -- he's likely to ask, without blinking, "Where do we start?" That's the approach he's taken to his (and our) current task, providing "universal access to all human knowledge."
Where most of us would be overwhelmed by the sheer size of the task, Brewster sees a challenge to be categorized and attacked systematically: Why can't we as a society share with all of our members the learning we've produced? What does that mean? Well, let's say there are 26 million books in the Library of Congress; 2-3 million sound recordings; maybe 100,000-200,000 theatrical releases and as many more video ephemera; 50 million websites; 1000 channels of television. For each chunk, the Internet Archive has a project: The Internet Bookmobile and million book project; live music archive; moving image collections; and, of course, the Wayback machine.
In his closing keynote for CFP, Brewster asked three questions about this universal access to all human knowledge: "can we?" "may we?" and "will we?" He expressed little doubt on the first -- technology can get us there if we have the will. As for the "may we?", to Brewster's credit, he's not willing to let the law block his vision. So he starts with public domain and permission-granted works, and builds. Perhaps that takes us to the point where the archives speak for themselves, begging to be filled first with orphan works, then classics, then ... the sky's the limit.
May we all share Brewster's will.
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