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"Poised between intransigent scepticism and uncritical credulity, it [science fiction] is par excellence the literature of the open mind."
- John Brunner

Universal Dictionary  
  A machine that provided references to anything known.  

Whenever Mr. Kiku wanted to know something, he'd just check the universal dictionary terminal on his desk.

The universal dictionary in the British Museum was not more knowledgeable than the one in the Under Secretary's office; its working parts occupied an entire building in another part of the Capital, and its staff of cyberneticists, semanticians and encyclopedists endlessly fed its hunger for facts.
From The Star Beast, by Robert Heinlein.
Published by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1954
Additional resources -

This entry gives a very clear picture of what a massive computer installation looked like in the 1950's; it was very large and required a large staff to keep it running. Here's an example of a mid-1950's computer - the IBM 704:

The IBM 704 was considered the world's first super-computer and the first machine to incorporate floating-point hardware. The 704 used magnetic core memory that was faster and more reliable than the magnetic drum storage found in the 701.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Star Beast
  More Ideas and Technology by Robert Heinlein
  Tech news articles related to The Star Beast
  Tech news articles related to works by Robert Heinlein

Universal Dictionary-related news articles:
  - Encyclopedia Googleactica - Google To Put All Human Knowledge Online
  - WolframAlpha Is Not A Search Engine

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Science Fiction in the News

'Courier Commons' By Tomorrow Lab, From Karl Schroeder (and Bruce Sterling?)
'The pokkecon rang again. *The coffee’s for him?* Tsuyoshi said.'

Terrifying Robotic Apple Harvester
'... little machines, that went from plant to plant.'

Mechanical Horse Sculpture Gallops In Place
'Rod placed the brain inside the panel... the horse raised its head, wiggled its ears, blinked twice, gave a tentative whinny.'

'Make Sunsets' Tweaks Climate By Atmospheric Alteration
'Pina2bo would have to operate full blast for many years to put as much SO2 into the stratosphere as its namesake had done in a few minutes.'

Eviation Alice Electric Plane First Flight
'A white electric plane approached at great speed...'

Hotels Turn To Robots As Human Workers Regroup
'Chain of hotels that specialized in non-human service.'

Changesite Mineral To Be Mined On Moon By China
'But then... not every bulldozer operator works on the Moon.'

Tongue-Controlled Tong Wearable Mouth Computer
'Griff found the white and pink map distracting and switched it off using his tongue mouse.'

Is It Better To Be Short?
'He was one of the smaller, energy-saving new breed...'

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