smart paper books soon

Damien Broderick (
Thu, 09 Oct 1997 10:25:32 +0000

On 9/26/96, or thereabouts, someone on a literature list said

>> `imagine curling up on a sandy beach with a laptop, browsing through a

and someone else commented:

>>This IS perfectly imaginable, isn't it, given perfectly imaginable
>>changes in hardware and software?

So I speculated cautiously:

>Smart paper, built by and out of nanoscale components, with megs of memory
>and probably voice activated. One sheet should do it. Delivery date?
>Dunno - 10, 15 years? Sorry for the delay.

A little over a year later, in yesterday's *Australian* newspaper (8 Oct
97, buried on p. 7 where all the important news tends to be exiled), Nick
Negroponte of the MIT Media Lab was reported as announcing the arrival,
within a year to 18 months, of a book format using a kind of smart paper.

It `involves embedding microscopic balls - about one-tenth of an inch in
diameter [sic] - in a coating on the top of each page. One half of each
ball is... black and the other white.'

I assume that these `microscopic' yet `1/10th inch' spheres are at most
really 1/100th of an inch or smaller, of the order of an up-market dot
matrix element.

These pixels can be rotated by an adroit electric charge, impressed
directly by a printer or via `a transparent grid [of] electronic circuitry
overlaid on the paper'. That paper would be indefinitely reusable. Text
downloads would arrive from the net. Morning newspapers would be
downloaded at night, and the paper recyled at the end of the day. Book
versions might `have a plug in the spine or back' allowing porting
(presumably on a pay-per-access basis from the Web, or maybe from revamped

Not quite as dazzlingly futuristic as my prediction of last year, but
pretty damned nifty. And set to change the entire process of traditional
bookselling in very much less than 15 years. Yippee - I think. (Anyone
got any more details on this development?)

Damien Broderick