My research into the world of early robots and automatons occassionally unearths some interesting articles. Here's one of them. Whilst not related to my main theme, I thought I would publish it anyway.
This article is amazingly prescient – imagining a world with personal listening devices, talking books etc – iPods and eBooks of the future!
Based on an article by Mr. Belmer of the Public Library of Paris, published in the March [1885?] number of the Nineteenth Century.
The Mercury (Hobart, Tasmania, Australia – Wednesday 24 June 1885.
THE BOOK OF THE FUTURE: OR WHISPERING MACHINES. A SPECULATION.
It is many years since a worthy man, a carpenter by trade, wishing to impress us with tho profundity of his studies, told us he read " future books." We were a little puzzled to know what he meant, but thought it might be something in tho prophetic line. We know now what futuro books aro to be. By a development of the phonograph or by the construction of a musical alphabet, based on sounds, and not on arbitrary spoiling, the book of the future is to be printed on a metal cylinder, and placed in a small automaton which can be wound up at pleasure, and which will read from the place at which it is set right on to the end, unless it is stopped. This automaton, with the book enclosed, may be placed for convenience in the hat or bonnet and be connected with the oars by wires, Thus when we take our walks abroad or travel by land or water we can be accompanied by the book of our choice, which will be read in a whisper audible to ourselves alone. No need of straining our eyes in omnibuses or railway carriages and inducing shortsightedness or myopia, or wearing out our eyes before their time. All the student has to do is to select the book and wind up his automaton. At all kinds of manual labour, as well on journeys, the book may be a pleasant or profitable companion. The needlewoman and the housewife may be read to while her hands and eyes are otherwise engaged, and many lonely sleepless hours, whether caused by pain of body or anxiety of mind, may be soothed or distracted by tho thoughts of the wise or the adventures of the foolish, without the intervention of the lighted candle and extinguisher. The putting out of the candle generally makes the reader feel as abroad awake as ever. The blind man will need no reader by the day or the hour, and a future Milton will not require his daughters to read Greek to him without their understanding a word of it. It is probable that even the deaf may have the wires tuned so that they can feel the sounds to which their ears are insensible.
The project is yet only in its infancy -indeed, further back than that, in the womb of time-but Mr. Bulmer (who hails from the Public Library of Paris), who writes on the subject in the March number of the Nineteenth Century, is enthusiastic as to the development of what is at present but an ingenious toy, the phonograph. We cannot stop were we are, any more than the development of printing could stop with the immovable wooden blocks of Faust and Gutenberg. Mr. Bulmer anticipates the widest results from whispering machines in the utilizing of much wasted time, especially in the more laborious classes, fron the saving of time and labour in learning reading and spelling, and from the abolition of patois and dialect, which, interesting as they are from their origin, are drawbacks to the free intercommunication of ideas. He believes that in the first place foreign languages will be much more easily acquired, and that ultimately a universal language will be the reault of the exchange of the ear for the eye in the study of foreign literature. Anything so hypothetical and problematical as this project opens a field to unlimited speculation. One wants to know if the automaton would read with expression, and if the musical alphabet would be as pleasant as an ordinary human voice. One also hopes that it will be possible to accelerate or slacken the time, so that the light literature in which youth delights may be read with rapidity, while the break is put on for the slower intellect of the old, especially when the subject is serious. Could the automaton be made to skip the descriptions of scenery and the moral reflections which most novel-readers consider an interruption to the story ? Will it be equal to reading the sonorous blank verse of Milton and Tennyson, and the irregular odes of our great masters of lyric poetry ? Will the phonetic printing of foreign languages enable the automaton to give the foreign accent, or is this accent one of the separating elements of human speech which ought to be obliterated ?
Ardent enthusiasts fancy that the whispering machine should be used in the workshop and in the kitchen, but we fancy masters will not allow reading to go on to the possible distraction of the journeyman's attention from his work, and mistresses may object to the house maid dusting the drawing-room, or the cook preparing the dinner while absorbed in the woes of Lady Evelyn or the crimes of the wicked Baronet.
As men take off their hats in church, it will be impossible for them to use a whispering machine to enliven a dull sermon, but a novelette might be insinuated into a bonnet, and while the lady may appear deeply interested in what she ostensibly comes to hear and to join in her mind may be quite otherwise absorbed. For it will be essentially a whispering machine, whose tidings are unnoticed by those around. Still it ap- pears within the power of science that when a new book is published in the cylindrical form and more than one wishes to hear it, connecting wires may convoy the sound to a sewing circle, for instance, so that all might be whispered to at once We do not think the book of the future could be so great a boon to the present generation as it might have been to those who are now old. Old-fashioned people who read little can read quite as fast aloud as they can read to themselves. We recollect an old lady to whom we lent a book, who told us she could not read it because she had a sore throat. Although no sound was audible, she was in the habit of moving her lips slightly as she went along, and making the throat motions also, so that any throat ailment debarred her from the pleasure of amusing herself. For her the automaton would have been a great boon. The power, too, of stopping it at will gives it an advantage over a living reader, for politeness prevents us from saying we are tired either of reading or listening. But there are some who would not hail a whispering machine, and those are, perhaps, the people whose eyes are most tried, who read four times as fast with their eyes as they can do with their voice, and who can seen at a glance what to them is worth reading and what may be left unread. The crowd of so-called able reviewers who cut the leaves of a new book and do little more than smell the paper-knife would think it tedious to read through the work they profess to judge. In the multi-plicity of literature, old and new, that presses upon us, it is really of great importance to know what we may neglect.
Be that it would be a desideratum if the automaton could be checked and directed to new ground, and no automaton could be equal to the human eye in making the selection. This is especially the case with regard to the daily record of mundane affairs-the newspaper. It is to us all but inconceivable that this form of literature should abandon the cheap medium of paper for the more costly metallic cylinder, and advertisers who like to see their appeals to the public displayed to catch the eye would complain that as no one would like his automaton to read all through the list of advertisements he would never find out what he really wanted or might be tempted to buy. We cannot conceive the friendly or business letter being replaced by metallic plates, though the phonetic spelling must be adopted when sounds are paramount. Still, even supposing that for correspondence for newspapers and placards paper were retained, what a revolution there would be in the paper trade if books were no longer printed on that material ! What a curious appearance a great library full of metal cylinders would present ! There is one gleam of hope for South Australia in this distant promise. A new use for copper has been long a desideratum. Now that copper has almost ceased to be used for sheathlng for ships the supply keeps far beyond the demand, and the fall in value has been most disastrous as the use for telegraphy and telephony is comparatively small. But as copper is the moat sonorous of all the metals it must be the medium of the whispering machines, and the book of the future may cause a steady demand for one of our chief staples.
It was said that before the discovery of the telophone no one conceived the direction which electrical research and experiment would take. Lord Lytton's "Coming Race " used a magnified galvanic or electrical force in the shape of vril, but had no notion of the sound possibilities. Now that the telephone and the phonograph have taken an assured place it is possible that Mr. Bulmer is morely speculating as to the magnified powers and applicabilities of what is so full of promise.
The book of the future may after all spring out of some other application of some yet undiscovered force of nature. While people are groping after a sixth sense and a fourth dimension no one can speak with certainty as to what may or may not be. -South Australian Register.
The above article reminds me of Vannevar Bush and his "memex" of 1945, just that it took Belmer's idea over 100 years to materialize.
from Wiki -
The memex (a portmanteau of "memory" and "index", like Rolodex an earlier index portmanteau common at the time) is the name given by Vannevar Bush to the theoretical proto-hypertext computer system he proposed in his 1945 The Atlantic Monthly article As We May Think. The memex is a device in which an individual compresses and stores all of their books, records, and communications which is then mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. A document can be given a simple numerical code that allows the user to access it after dialing the number combination. Documents are also able to be edited in real-time. This process makes annotation fast and simple. The memex is an enlarged intimate supplement to one's memory. The memex has influenced the development of subsequential hypertext and intellect augmenting computer systems.
A memex consists of a desk, where on top are slanting translucent screens on which material can be projected for convenient reading. Within the desk were mechanisms that stored information through microphotography. Most of the memex contents are purchased on microfilm ready for insertion. On the top of the memex is a transparent platen. When a longhand note, photograph, memoranda, and other things are in place, the depression of a lever causes it to be photographed onto the next blank space in a section of the memex film, dry photography being employed.