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Discovery in Borges’ Library
June 15, 2021 at 1:00 pm - 4:00 pm EDT
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In this salon, Matt Groh explores the connection between the mystical, infinite labyrinths of the The Library of Babel and creative exploration itself.
Borges’ short story begins with an epitaph written centuries before: “By this art you may contemplate the variation of the twenty-three letters.” Upon entering the Library, you’ll find an impeccably precise architectural layout with more books on the rooms’ shelves than atoms in the universe. The joy that comes from the realization that the Library contains all books (even books on the origin of the library, the origin of time itself, and perhaps the most interesting: the book which describes the formula for all the rest) is naturally followed by melancholy when upon further exploration, the books reveal mostly nonsense. In search of deep truths, some people in the library try to eliminate the nonsense, but it appears to be a fool’s errand. There’s another group of people – a blasphemous sect – who dare to write under the belief that chance is more likely to gift them a masterpiece by their hands than it is to reveal a masterpiece to their eyes. The story ends with an eternal wanderer revealing an elegant hope.
If you were transported into the Library, how would you explore? What do you think the Library represents? What if the entire Library was connected to the Internet, would you do anything differently? What if you could run the Library through an AI, could you learn anything? What lessons can the Library reveal to people seeking self-improvement, future forecasters, and interdisciplinary thinkers?
In the Age of Entanglement, knowledge is understood as a single entangled topology rather than individual self-referential disciplines. In an attempt to map the process of creative exploration, we might identify science, art, engineering and design as the intersecting channels with different roles to help us develop knowledge. Might this map help us become the eternal wanderer that once gave Borges hope?
How would we build technology in the Library – both AI and decentralized systems – to collaborate and develop the best understanding possible of the Library and its books? If we happened upon one of the masterpieces of the Library, how would we know it was a masterpiece? How is classicness, brilliance, or beauty connected to the discovery process of a poetic text?
Italo Calvino described 14 criteria for a classic book. His fourth criterion describes “a book which with each rereading offers as much of a sense of discovery as the first reading.” Why do we re-read classics? What kind of personal journeys lead us to simultaneously circle back and transform? Does this inform how we build intelligent systems? Are these the classics people are searching for in the Library?
We hope you can join us to explore the Library, share experiences with creative exploration, and reflect on how we should go about building the future.
The Library of Babel (Jorge Luis Borges)
Age of Entanglement (Neri Oxman)
Extending Intelligence (Joi Ito)
Mapping AI By Exploring Possibility Spaces (Matt Groh)
How Reading is Like Love (Maria Popova)
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