What I want today

Draft of 2005.08.24 ☛ 2015.03.16

I want a Machine, into which I can put a book. I would not open the book, just set it on a little pillow, and perhaps press a green glowing button, or use a little joystick to send it into a big metal tube or something. The lights in the room would be low, and indirect; the Machine I Want would be in the middle of a large white expanse of floor. We would be sitting at a console, at a distance, not looking at the Machine I Want, but rather hunched over the Results Screen.

Expectant. Excited. Maybe, I dunno, just a touch concerned.

When the Green Button had been pressed or the Small Joystick wobbled appropriately, rays would come from the heart of the Machine I Want, which would pierce the volume—without harming it. Sensors would be watching, gathering terabytes of data. A high-resolution three-dimensional scan (at least voxels per cubic inch) would be created by the Machine I Want’s onboard controllers. Oh, regarding the rays: if you prefer, magnets might be involved. That would be good, because there would also be large sweating tanks of liquified gas in the room. This is a mere detail; I would be happy to wait in the next room, gazing expectantly down at the console, while your choice of powerful energies were brought to bear.

Go ahead. Try a few.

Now, before the expectant readers were shown much on the Results Screen, the resulting internal representation of the high-resolution 3-D scan of the book would first be sent to a moderately powerful computer in the Machine I Want. Or next to it. There, the pages of the text would be discerned, the characters and illustrations saved, and OCRed.1

In the end, a valuable antique book would not have been busted open like road kill on a hot summer day, just so every page can be apposed to the over-small platen of a flatbed scanner. Brittle or uncut pages would not be damaged. Bindings would remain intact. That would be nicer than what we have now—which I admit is far nicer than what we had before that…. No, what we have now is an amazing and excellent piece of hardware, and I expect we will use it happily until I wear it to a little scanny nub.

But see, it’s not the Machine I Want.

So, anyway… I’m waiting.


  1. One piece of actual technical utility to this post: I find myself wondering if OCR in three dimensions is easier or harder than OCR in two dimensions. I can see arguments for both answers….