Michael Hart

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Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg began in 1971 when Michael Hart was given an operator's account with $100,000,000 of computer time in it by the operators of the Xerox Sigma V mainframe at the Materials Research Lab at the University of Illinois.

This was totally serendipitous, as it turned out that two of a four operator crew happened to be the best friend of Michael's and the best friend of his brother. Michael just happened "to be at the right place at the right time" at the time there was more computer time than people knew what to do with, and those operators were encouraged to do whatever they wanted with that fortune in "spare time" in the hopes they would learn more for their job proficiency.

At any rate, Michael decided there was nothing he could do, in the way of "normal computing," that would repay the huge value of the computer time he had been given ... so he had to create $100,000,000 worth of value in some other manner. An hour and 47 minutes later, he announced that the greatest value created by computers would not be computing, but would be the storage, retrieval, and searching of what was stored in our libraries.

He then proceeded to type in the "Declaration of Independence" and tried to send it to everyone on the networks ... which can only be described today as a not so narrow miss at creating an early version of what was later called the "Internet Virus."

A friendly dissuasion from this yielded the first posting of a document in electronic text, and Project Gutenberg was born as Michael stated that he had "earned" the $100,000,000 because a copy of the Declaration of Independence would eventually be an electronic fixture in the computer libraries of 100,000,000 of the computer users of the future.


Our eventual goal is to provide Public Domain Etext editions a short time after they enter the Public Domain. Of course, the period before a copyrighted work entered the Public Domain was extended from 28 years (with a 28 year extension available) to 50 years more than the life of the author, so this put a kink, to put it mildly, into our plans. (The original copyright was for 14 years, in the U.S.) Thus, a person could originally do a reasonable prediction that anything under copyright would be in the Public Domain while it could be used, under the new law it is impossible to predict the length of a copyright, and the likelihood of a new book entering the Public Domain during the lifetime of the average reader is minimal. (Suppose you might be 25 when you read a new book and the author is 50: wait the average 25 years for the author to die (what a thought!*) Now you have to wait another 50 years to have access to that book; it doesn't matter when it was written (unless it is an old one ... before the period the law retroacted to) ... so you would have to wait (on the average) until you were 100 years old. A 25-year-old under the original law would only have to wait for 14 years ... until the age of 39. Quite a difference; between the ages of 39 and 100. Not only that, but the copyright laws would have to stay the same for all that time ... something in serious doubt, seeing how much they have changed in the recent century.

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