Digital Library of Babel contains every book that has ever been (and ever could be) written

digital library of babel contains every possible book ever librarybabel
Roman Boed/Flickr
In his infamous short story The Library of Babel, author Jorge Luis Borges presents readers with an interesting thought experiment. The story is centered around fictional library that contains every possible combination of all the letters of in the alphabet, in a massive collection of 410-page novels. Because the collection contains every possible combination of characters, the library holds not only every book that has ever been written, but also every book that could ever be written.

The only problem is that, in addition to the complete works of Shakespeare, Voltaire, and every other author who has ever been born; the library also contains a staggeringly large amount of incomprehensible gibberish. Many of the permutations of alphabetic characters are totally random strings of letters, so a large portion of the library’s books are pure nonsense. There’s also no effective way to organize so many volumes of worthless dribble, so in the story, the librarians who maintain the collection quickly lose their minds trying to reign in the unfathomably large amount of nonsensical books.

It’s a fascinating story, but the thing is, a library of this size could never actually exist in the physical world. The Library of Babel would have contained 1.9×10^1834097 books, which is astronomical compared to the 22 million (2.18×10^6) found in some of the world’s biggest brick-and-mortar libraries. Clearly, a physical Library of Babel would be impossible to build — but what if the library could exist digitally?

This very idea is what inspired artist and programmer Jonathan Basile to create a digital version of the Library of Babel. His library contains a massive collection of digital novels (currently 10^4677 and counting), all of which are are 410 pages long, and contain a completely random arrangement of letters. The tricky part is that even this digital version of the Library of Babel has much too large a footprint for any practical storage or accessibility. Basile discovered that just one million books required almost two terabytes of space, so he quickly recalculated with a new approach.

Using random number generators and a reversible seed-style page generator similar to the ones used by search engines and library systems, visitors call up entries in the digital library using algorithms run backwards to search the database. In plain English, this means that any user who searches for a phrase or string of text in the library receives a freshly generated “copy” of that text from the seed that held its place on the digital shelves.

The system works the same way if a library visitor selects a random result from the site’s search function, although true to the story’s philosophy, much of what you’ll find is nonsensical strings of letters. Users more interested in browsing the library shelves can sort through a simple visualization of the Library of Babel’s hexagonal chamber system, selecting walls of books, specific shelves, and then names on the spines. Basile understands that the concept of a universal library has its dangers, and the site includes a forum where users and fans can discuss the library’s philosophical implications, as well as real-world legal issues like plagiarism, copyright laws, and the impact the library might have on the publishing industry.

If you’re less concerned with the legal and philosophical issues in play, you can still get a kick out of the library’s enormity. You can search for your own writing in the library, or even stories about your birth, your death (or someone else’s birth or death, regardless of whether or not those events have happened yet). It gets spooky fast.


Just when you thought spam was dead, it’s back and worse than ever

Spam emails might seem like an outdated way to spread malware, but in 2018 they are proving to be the most effective attack vector thanks to new techniques and tricks.
Smart Home

Alexa goes to college as Saint Louis University puts an Echo in every dorm room

Smart speakers have been deployed on campus before but Saint Louis University is going all in by providing an Amazon Echo Dot to every on-campus living space on campus, totaling over 2,300 devices.
Emerging Tech

Be a master of your own ever-changing ‘galaxy’ with this kinetic wall art

Art Machine is a stunning work of kinetic art that looks like a continuously swirling galaxy or turbulent weather formation viewed through a ship's porthole. Check it out in all its glory.

The best PS1 games of all time

Take a stroll down memory lane with the 50 best games ever released for the original PlayStation.
Emerging Tech

The Perseid meteor shower peaks this weekend! Here’s how to watch

Thanks to a new moon, 2018's Perseid Meteor Shower will be much easier to view, with even the dimmest meteors observable by the naked eye. Here's how to see the show this weekend, and where the views will be the best.
Emerging Tech

Don’t get burned! How to back crowdfunding projects the smart way

In the world of crowdfunding, there’s no such thing as a sure thing. There's a million reasons why a project might fail. But with this handy guide, you'll be able to spot the signs of a sketchy project and decrease your chances of getting…
Emerging Tech

‘Rogue medicine in a bathtub’: 4 experts on the vice and virtue of pharma hacking

A biohacker, pharmahacker, and two bioethicists walk into a bar. We ordered them a metaphorical round and had a chat about the risks and rewards of DIY medicine — from unsanctioned gene therapy to medication made on the kitchen counter.
Emerging Tech

Stanford A.I. can realistically score computer animations just by watching them

Researchers at Stanford University have developed a computer system that’s able to synthesize realistic sounds for 3D animation, based entirely on its knowledge about the physical world.
Emerging Tech

No keyboard? No problem. Masterkey will project you a virtual one to type on

Miss having a physical keyboard when you're out and about? Wish you could have a mobile display bigger than your smartphone can offer? Masterkey 4.0 is a wireless projector that promises to help.

You don’t need to go autonomous to make trucking safer

Long haul truckers are very good at their jobs, but they face long hours and unpredictable conditions. Autonomous tech may be coming, but here’s how lidar technology companies are working to enhance trucking safety today.
Emerging Tech

Omega Centauri hosts 10 million stars and probably not an ounce of life

Omega Centauri is about 16,000 light years away, making it visible to the naked eye. And it contains some 10 million stars, making it the largest globular cluster in the Milky Way. But it probably doesn't have an ounce of life.
Emerging Tech

The world’s first practical quantum computer has cash and a timeline

The dream of building a practical quantum computer could be closer than ever, thanks to a $15 million grant from the National Science Foundation to seven universities around the United States.
Emerging Tech

Forget flying cars: This shoe-tying robot is proof that the future is here

Engineering students from the University of California, Davis, recently built a robot whose sole personality in life is to tie shoelaces. It cost them under $600 to do it as well!
Emerging Tech

Bizarre stork robot uses a drone to compensate for its weak, twig-like legs

Developed by engineers from Japan’s University of Tokyo, Aerial Biped is a robot whose top half is comprised of a flying quadrotor UAV that's rooted to the ground by thin stork-like legs.