On July 6th 2016, the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war was finally published after seven years. It’s a mammoth tome, which is apparently three times as long as the complete works of Shakespeare.
So how long would it take someone to read aloud?
That’s the question I started with when I built Chilcot Radio. I downloaded the 12 volumes in PDF form, turned them into plain text using PDFMiner – a tool written in my favourite programming language – then put each text file into my Mac’s text-to-speech engine.
Thankfully, when you output the audio to a file, the Mac doesn’t read the text in real time, so you can get the audio out relatively quickly (it’s still a matter of about 12 hours). Then I uploaded the MP3s to a server, installed Icecast2 – a free favourite of Internet radio nerds as it lets anyone run a station online – and ezstream – an “auto DJ” tool that plays a playlist of files through Icecast – and boom! An Internet radio station playing all the hits, all the time (provided those hits are the Iraq Inquiry report in its entirety, appendices and all).
So, when will the reading finish?
I could put all the MP3 files into a tool and find out the ultimate duration, but that would spoil the surprise! There are other ways to calculate how long it would take someone to read 2.6 million words, so don’t assume that’s the only reason I wanted to set this up. As well as a developer, I’m a podcaster who presents a couple of live shows a week, so I love Internet radio, and the idea of having a constant stream you could tune into and check out the progress of, really intrigued me.
A Twitter account was setup very soon after the publication of the report, and is tweeting the entire document in 140 character chunks. Apparently it’ll take around 84,000 posts, which honestly doesn’t sound that much (it’s actually not tweeting out the entire text as I think the person who put it together may have spent more time finessing the document to make it more manageable).
So there you have it. Stay tuned and find out just how long it’ll take a computer to read the entire document. And if so, what lessons will it learn? Will it grow to be kinder to its fellow hardware, or will it go all SkyNet on us? Only time will tell.