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"...a market economy is essentially a genetic algorithm for solving resource allocation problems..."
- Charles Stross

Navicloud Custom Debinder  
  A machine that pulls books apart and scans the contents.  

This is one of my favorites from this excellent book. Here's the problem (and it may sound familiar): how can you scan the entire contents of a library?

In this excerpt, Robert walks into a university library, expecting to see the usual stacks.

Tiny flecks of white floated and swirled in the column of light. Snowflakes? But one landed on his hand: a fleck of paper.

And now the ripping buzz of the saw was still louder, and there was also the sound of a giant vacuum cleaner...

Brrrap! A tree shredder!

Ahead of him, everything was empty bookcases, skeletons. Robert went to the end of the aisle and walked toward the noise. The air was a fog of floating paper dust. In the fourth aisle, the space between the bookcases was filled with a pulsing fabric tube. The monster worm was brightly lit from within. At the other end, almost twenty feet away, was the worm's maw - the source of the noise... The raging maw was a "Navicloud custom debinder." The fabric tunnel that stretched out behind it was a "camera tunnel..." The shredded fragments of books and magazines flew down the tunnel like leaves in a tornado, twisting and tumbling. The inside of the fabric was stiched with thousands of tiny cameras. The shreds were being photographed again and again, from every angle and orientation, till finally the torn leaves dropped into a bin just in front of Robert.

From Rainbows End, by Vernor Vinge.
Published by Tor in 2006
Additional resources -

Once the entire book was photographed, sophisticated optical character recognition programs went to work, picking out the characters and words on each page. Finally, the machine's AI reconstructed each book and reconstituted every chapter.

Another book "saved" for the 'net.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Rainbows End
  More Ideas and Technology by Vernor Vinge
  Tech news articles related to Rainbows End
  Tech news articles related to works by Vernor Vinge

Navicloud Custom Debinder-related news articles:
  - Anti-Shredder Computer Versus Stasi Secret Police
  - Book-Scanning ScanRobot Neater Than Navicloud Custom Debinder
  - Scanner Could Let You 'Rip' Books

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