The Washington Post has an interesting, long article about Google's project to scan every book on Earth. The article mentions a 2002 meeting put together by Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, about the creation of a Final Encyclopedia. The head librarian of Stanford met Larry Page and Sergey Brin at this meeting, which led a couple of years later to the announcement of Google's scanning project.
When Google's project was announced, I immediately thought "aha, clearly it's The Final Encyclopedia!" It's funny to learn now that this was what all the decision-makers were thinking about as well. A bit of background. The Final Encyclopedia is a classic science fiction book by Gordon Dickson in his Childe Cycle. The book was first published in 1985.
As you can see from the above cover of the book, the Final Encyclopedia is a very large Earth orbital structure (1,600 km altitude). It holds all of human knowledge. Of course, it bears no resemblance to Google's current server farms on terra firma. But it's astonishing to see how quickly the idea is becoming reality.
Later in the article, the writer suggests that this project will end up being bad publicity for Google -- that Google is somehow going against its "don't be evil" ethos. Frankly, I find this idea ridiculous. Google got a ton of good publicity out of the project. It's a mind-blowingly awesome idea.
Also, the writer suggests that the book publishers association filed suit against Google on the project in order to bring Google to negotiating table. I agree that this is part of the reason for the suit, but Google rightly is confident that it will win the suit. Why are the publishers getting into a suit that they are likely to lose? I think that the publishers were trying to make potential Google partners uncertain about the legal risks involved, and thereby slow the project. But it doesn't seem to have scared away the University of California system, which signed on to the project last week. It has 34 million books in its stacks.
In any event, I'm happy that the trucks filled with books from Stanford University are still pulling up to an undisclosed area of the Googleplex for scanning.