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The plot is simple. Mankind undertakes to store all of human knowledge in a giant computer. The computer grows so large that it has to be located on the moon. It can be accessed by a gigantic "index" computer located on earth.
Mankind relies more and more on this repository of knowledge and over time mankind forgets how to do anything without the computer. Teams of computer operators access instructions for all human activity.
The story ends with the computer's lead operator reporting that the computer access code is lost, and the code is so complicated that it may take years or decades to regain access!

I have some recollection that this story might have been included in an Arthur C. Clarke collection entitled "The Nine Billion Names of God", which is one of the stories included in the collection.

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    The contents of the anthology The Nine Billion Names of God is available here. None of thestories look like the one you describe. Feb 29 at 18:50
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    It is definitely not in the collection The Nine Billion Names of God. I own a copy of that book and there's nothing even remotely like your description in it
    – JRE
    Feb 29 at 18:56
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    This reminds me strongly of "MS Fnd in a Lbry" (Wikipedia, original) but that is much more retrospective, and it's not the access that's been lost it's the actual library. (Though it does fit the timeframe; it was anthologized in 17 X Infinity, ed. Conklin, 1963.)
    – DavidW
    Feb 29 at 19:37
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    @FuzzyBoots I thought they had lots and lots of indexes but could not find the actual records, called Rx. As DavidW said. Feb 29 at 20:01
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    There was a similar one I remember, about a planet-size computer that stopped to work due to a failing component, and they had to find an old man that remembered ohm's law... Can't find it at the moment.
    – Rmano
    Mar 1 at 7:28

2 Answers 2

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There are a number of similarities to the 1961 short story Hal Draper's "MS Fnd in a Lbry" by Hal Draper, published in the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, December 1961. One detail that notably fits your question is that it was anthologized in 17 X Infinity (edited by Groff Conklin) in 1963, which places it just over 60 years ago.

In the story the entire knowledge of humanity is on a small drawer, while the various indexes and bibliographical data have expanded to fill literal galaxies. Then one day a discrepancy is discovered between two indexes (Ix), that can only be resolved by looking up the original records (Rx). Unfortunately, the location of the Rx can't be found, because it's in one of the corrupted Ix.

The story has a Wikipedia page, or you can read the original story.

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  • I don't remember the details very well after all this time, but "MS And in a Lbry" sounds basically the story I remember reading long ago. I don't know why I thought it was somehow related to Nine Billion Names of God, but I may have just read them both during the early 1960s. Thanks to those who answered.
    – Dennis G.
    Feb 29 at 21:46
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As mentioned in the comments, this has a strong resemblance to "MS Fnd in a Lbry" by Hal Draper (readable here).

The story is in the form of a report written by Yrlh Vvg, an anthropologist from an alien civilization who investigates the remains of human civilization approximately 175,000 yukals into the future. It turns out that humankind's fall was brought about by information overload and the inability to catalog and retrieve that information properly.

The title of the short story comes from the fact that all redundancy - and vowels - had been removed from our language in order for the information volume to shrink. Finally the sum of all human knowledge was compressed by means of subatomic processes and stored away in a drawer-sized box. However the access to that information required complicated indices, bibliographies etc., which soon outgrew the size of all knowledge.

The use of indices grew exponentially, comprising a pseudo-city, pseudo-planet and eventually a pseudo-galaxy devoted to information storage. At this point, a case of circular reference was encountered, and the civilization needed to refer to the first drawer-sized box to find the error. However, this drawer had been lost in the pseudo-galaxy, and soon the civilization fell apart while trying to locate the first drawer.

Unlike in your question, they still have a corrupted index (which is stored across an entirely galaxy), but they have lost the actual information drawer (which is the size of a drawer) that it refers to. But indeed, the story is a writeup in retrospect of the collapse of civilization due to the increasing corruption of the index.

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