September 30, 2011

A Declaration of Independence

Michael Hart is dead. Long live Project Gutenberg.

Michael was the founder of Project Gutenberg, and typed the first ever "e-book" into a computer via a Teletype machine way back on July 4th 1971. That "book" was the Declaration of Independence of the United States from Great Britain. and Michael died on September 6th 2011, aged 64. According to his obituary in the Economist:

The joy of e-books, which he invented, was that anyone could read those books anywhere, free, on any device, and every text could be replicated millions of times over. He dreamed that by 2021 he would have provided a million e-books each, a petabyte of information that could probably be held in one hand, to a billion people all over the globe—a quadrillion books, just given away. As powerful as the Bomb, but beneficial.

According to The Economist once more, his dream of the potential effects of his cyber-revolution can be summed up as follows:

  1. Books prices plummet.
  2. Literacy rates soar.
  3. Education rates soar.
  4. Old structures crumble, as did the Church.
  5. Scientific Revolution.
  6. Industrial Revolution.
  7. Humanitarian Revolution.

However that's not quite how Michael's dream has panned out, by the time of his death at least:

Because of the Mickey Mouse copyright laws, every time men found a speedier way to spread information to each other, government made it illegal. Money-oriented rivals such as Google and Yahoo! sprang up all round as the new century dawned, claiming to have invented e-books before him.

Maybe Michael's much anticipated humanitarian revolution is just around the corner? Maybe with more and more governments around the world espousing the ideals of "Open Data", copyright and patent laws will be repealed? Maybe money and lawyers will be made redundant? Maybe pigs might fly away, never to be needed again?

However things might turn out in the future, long live Project Gutenberg!

Michael Hart, R.I.P.

Michael Hart (left) and Greg Newby, founders of Project Gutenberg, in 2006

Michael Hart (left) and Greg Newby, founders of Project Gutenberg, in 2006

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