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Cover Quote: July 1999

We can make some rough estimates of the amount by which computer technology can increase our ability to find and utilize information. We do not need very accurate estimates to show that the increase is going to be very large indeed. Consider the total quantity of information available to a talented person without a computer. Suppose this individual has completed a speed reading course and can read 1,000 words per minute. One word is about five letters or 25 bits, so if this person spends six hours a day reading, seven days a week, for seventy years, he will have read about 2 x 1011 bits (roughly twice through the library at Alexandria). A modest home computer can read that many bits in a few days—a really fast computer, in minutes. Therefore even today’s computer technology provides an increase of a factor of thousands to millions in total information availability. This estimate makes no allowance for such things as the use of indexes to enable an individual to sort through more information than he or she can read, or for the fact that a human reader generally employs more intelligence and judgment than a machine is able to employ. But even with these refinements, it remains clear that the computer will increase information availability by many orders of magnitude.

- Douglas S. Robertson
The New Renaissance: Computers and the Next Level of Civilization, 1998
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