Created By: Equidhat on September 7, 2011 Last Edited By: Perey on July 14, 2012
Troped

Human Hard Drive

A character whose main purpose is to store information.

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"You were expecting a book. An ancient tome filled with the secrets that you seek. But instead, you have found me."

When The Library of Babel is just too large and a Great Big Book of Everything is too impersonal, these characters are trained or modified (by science or magic) to retain (nigh-)superhuman quantities of knowledge, and then wait around until their memories are called on.

Whether the Human Hard Drive is capable of doing anything with the knowledge (except recite it when queried) will vary. Whether they're left capable of doing anything else will also vary. A Human Hard Drive isn't necessarily human, but they are considered a person, so some androids and AI programs still count.

Very often overlaps with MacGuffin Girl, since a character like this will often become a point of conflict due to the knowledge they have. If they are instead (or also) part of the Five-Man Band, they will be The Smart Guy. If the Human Hard Drive bears the burden of exposition, this trope may overlap with both Mr. Exposition and Expositron 9000, simultaneously.

Compare/contrast:
  • Encyclopaedic Knowledge, where the knower isn't necessarily intended to store information (nor have they surpassed human capacity), but they know something about everything.
  • Gibbering Genius, if the modification has left them a little worse for wear, or at least prone to trip over their own words.
  • Neuro-Vault, where the knower doesn't know that they know. Err, that is, the character is unaware of the information stored in them.
  • Wetware CPU, one possible method of modifying a human to be (part of) a Human Hard Drive.


Examples

Anime and Manga
  • Index from To Aru Majutsu no Index.
  • Disk from NEEDLESS.
  • Dantallian from Bibliotheca Mystica de Dantalian is technically a gateway to an actual library, but the net result is still this trope.
  • Yuki Nagato from Haruhi Suzumiya, a "data entity" who remembers every irrelevant detail of 595 years of summer vacation, and presumably everything else.
  • In Seirei no Moribito, one of the Mikado's elite memorizes a book of delivery tickets by flipping through it.
  • All the Persocoms in Chobits, although it's implied that the Chobits series of androids can do much more.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, after the central library burns down, we learn that a former librarian names Sheska has memorized the entire contents of all of the books in the library. She is then paid by the Elric brothers to recreate books from the library.

Comic Books
  • Layla Miller in X-Factor. She knows stuff. At first it seems that "knowing stuff" is her mutant power, but in fact Future!Layla downloaded all the knowledge into Past!Layla's brain.
  • X-Men: in the "Age of X" alternate timeline, Rogue's code name was Reaper and it was her job to save all the memories of fallen mutants.
  • In Doom Patrol, a doomsday cult is looking for something called the Book of the Fifth Window. It turns out to be a young man with writing all over his skin.

Film
  • The titular Johnny Mnemonic is a cyborg (or perhaps a very slightly altered human) created for this purpose.
  • Mr Memory, in the Alfred Hitchcock film The 39 Steps, is a man with perfect memory who travels around the world answering trivia questions from the audience. He is also the "39 Steps" organization's human database and file cabinet. He knows every last detail reported to him and is able to recite it instantly at will. He's used to smuggle stolen governmental and military information between international borders, as no amount of searching by security can find the stolen documents.
  • In Flight of the Navigator, the boy was abducted by an alien spacecraft and had a bunch of star charts stuffed into the other 90% of Your Brain. When he was returned, he was taken in by government scientists first to figure out why he hadn't aged in several years, and they discovered all the maps/charts stored inside his brain.
  • In the 2002 film of The Time Machine, a holographic AI librarian/computer called Vox works at the New York Public Library. Vox looks like a human and can answer any question you ask it.

Literature
  • In Fahrenheit 451, all of the rebels become these, each committing one entire book to memory so they can recite it if all copies of it are destroyed.
  • Archive from the Dresden Files.
  • Captain Phantastic in One of Our Thursdays Is Missing. Granted, he's an elephant and not a human being, but he's a Civilized Animal working as the filing system for Jurisfiction and JAID in the BookWorld.
  • Appears (in Unbuilt Trope form) in the Jorge Luis Borges story "Funes The Memorious". The title character's absolute, perfect memory -- the result of a head injury -- is useless, since every sensation or miniscule change in an object registers as a separate memory, requiring a specific name, to the point of near-sensory overload.
  • Savants/Sages serve as these to inquisitors in the Warhammer40K universe. They're cybernetically enhanced to allow them to better store data and live long enough to gather it.
    • In the Ciaphas Cain novels, Amberley's savant, Caractacus Mott, is portrayed as a Gibbering Genius and has a habit of giving more exposition than Amberley would like Cain to recieve.
    • Some servitors (crude, single-purpose cyborgs) are made for this. Some people also have databanks attached to their brains for this purpose.
  • Simon Illyan in Vorkosigan Saga has an implanted organic chip that records everything he sees and hears, and which he can recall later. Most people who got the implant went crazy. Subverted in that only he has access to the memories, and that most of the memories stored are near useless.
  • In the Cordwainer Smith story "Golden the Ship Was - Oh, Oh, Oh!", one member of a four-man crew recorded the actions of the ship's Captain.
  • The plot of the novel Hammerjack begins when a courier of this type dies and the message he was carrying preserves itself by turning the next closest human -- who happens to be the main character -- into its new carrier.
  • There's the Karma Catechist from the Eddie Drood books by Simon R. Green. He's a human storehouse of magical knowledge -- ALL the magical knowledge.
  • In Small Gods, Brutha has a Photographic Memory, so when a library is burning down, people make him read the books so they can still have the information. Unfortunately, he's also illiterate. But it works out okay.
  • Brian Henrickson of Time Scout has a Photographic Memory and works as a librarian. He might not have read every book important to the work of scouting and guiding, but you'll never prove it.
  • The Mnemonic Service in Isaac Asimov's Sucker Bait.
  • H.G. Wells' "The First Men on the Moon" has some moon-aliens with ridiculously large heads, whose sole purpose is to remember things. They are brought in so they can learn English vocabulary from the humans.
  • In Michael Kurland's novel The Unicorn Girl, the protagonists encounter a travelling band of hippies, which include a young woman who read an entire encyclopedia while under the influence of powerful drugs. She is able to answer an astounding array of technical or historical questions, but nothing about herself or her own feelings.

Live-Action TV
  • Babylon 5 featured a "Vicker", as in "VCR", in one episode. This is someone whose brain has been re-purposed as a recording device, which can preserve information without contaminating it with personal opinions. If scanned by a telepath, they have no detectable thoughts of their own.
  • The early 80s TV series Zorro And Son featured Corporal Cassette, who could recite back any conversation that took place in his presence -- a Namesake Gag on cassette tapes. (Played by John Moschitta, the fast-talk guy.)
  • The title character of Chuck (a.k.a. "The Intersect"). He gets CIA and NSA information embedded in his head, necessitating one agent from each to protect him. Of course, he can use the combined intelligence to figure out scenarios that each agency wouldn't on its own.
  • In an episode of Stargate SG-1, SG-1 encounters a world where specialist children called "Urrone" learn a subject for ten years, and then "graduate", sharing their knowledge with the rest of their people. That's pretty much their whole purpose in society because they have nanites in their brains that are removed and distributed upon "graduation", leaving the children in an infant-like state for the rest of their lives. (At the end, we discover that the Urrone can, in fact, learn the old-fashioned way, maybe even have a normal life but for those ten years lost.)
    • Played with in another episode. The library computer in Atlantis has a holographic person as an interface. When SG-1 visits looking for information, they find that the "hologram" is actually an Ancient (or perhaps was replaced by one just on that occasion) who was trying to get the information to them.
  • In Eureka, an Instant A.I., Just Add Water creates a human body nearly from scratch and backups all information into the person's cells.
  • The New Avengers episode "The Three-Handed Game" featured three agents with perfect memory. Each of them was shown one-third of a secret message and was sent to deliver it via a different route, so that in theory nobody could intercept the entire message. (Come to think of it, kinda like the way data packets work on the internet.) Of course the bad guy figured out a way.
  • Angel The Series: "I'm Files and Records".
  • As an Emergency Medical Hologram (EMH), the Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager was made specifically to contain all the knowledge of Starfleet medical officers. The EMH also appears in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: First Contact, but on Voyager he becomes a necessary part of the crew and comes to be treated as a person. An interesting reversal of the usual process: "hard drive" first, "human" later.

Video Games

Real Life
  • Oral historians may serve this purpose for unwritten cultural legacies, with lifelong practice replacing magical or technological modification.
    • In ancient Greece, musicians and storytellers, and sometimes the educated elite, were supposed to be able to recite the most famous epics (usually the Iliad or the Odyssey) by heart. As reported by his disciple Plato, Socrates was against writing itself: "It destroys memory and weakens the mind, relieving it of work that makes it strong. It is an inhuman thing."
Community Feedback Replies: 66
  • September 7, 2011
    pcw2727
    Hermione often serves this purpose in Harry Potter
  • September 7, 2011
    Equidhat
    I'm not sure that is really the same Thing, this YKTTW is more about characters who have had the information forced into them in a unnatural way. It's not about just knowing things, it's about being treated as a book/hard drive. Not sure how to add it, but Being a Mac Guffin Girl is important to this. (Though I haven't read all of Harry Potter so you may be referring to something that happens later that I'm not aware of.)
  • September 7, 2011
    aurora369
    Johnny Mnemonic anyone?
  • September 7, 2011
    Generality
    In that case, does this include people who have preservation of information/ memorisation of stories as a vocation?
  • September 7, 2011
    aschwartz07901
    In accordance with the above comment, I'm going to say the Archive, from the dresden files books
  • September 7, 2011
    AFP
    • Babylon 5 featured a "Vicker", as in "VCR", in one episode. Basically someone whose brain has been re-purposed as a recording device which could preserve information without contaminating it with personal opinions. If scanned by a telepath, they have no detectable thoughts of their own.
  • September 7, 2011
    Auxdarastrix
    Not to be confused with The Smart Guy or Super Intelligence.
  • September 7, 2011
    Ryusui
    Data Dude? (As a reference to Ein, the "Data Dog" from Cowboy Bebop?)
  • September 7, 2011
    OmarKarindu
    • Appears in Unbuilt Trope form in the Jorge Luis Borges story "Funes the Memorious." The title character's absolute, perfect memory -- the result of a head injury -- is useless, since every sensation or miniscule change in an object registers as a separate memory, requiring a specific name, to the point of near-sensory overload.
  • September 7, 2011
    Equidhat
    RE: Generality : It probably could be expanded to include that, But that would probably be a separate trope of it's own. We seem to have Several examples of the modified form already, so it might be best to exclude oral historians.

    Though I'm not really sure on this point and welcome discussion on it.
  • September 7, 2011
    Auxdarastrix
    This is a good trope idea, but Needs A Better Description. I think I get what you are saying (person whose being used artificially as an information storage repository), but for definition purposes expand on what makes it different from just being smart and knowledgeable. Consider also how you want this to compare to The Omniscient and Seers.
  • September 7, 2011
    randomsurfer
    The early 80s TV series Zorro and Son featured Corporal Cassette, who could recite back any conversation that took place in his presence - a Namesake Gag on cassette tapes. (Played by John Moschitta, the fast-talk guy.)
  • September 8, 2011
    ZombieAladdin
    In the Alfred Hitchcock film The 39 Steps, Mr. Memory, a man with perfect memory who travels around the world answering trivia questions from the audience, is actually the 39 Steps organization's human database and file cabinet, knowing every last detail reported to him and able to recite it instantly at will. He's used to smuggle stolen governmental and military information between international borders, as no amount of searching by security can find the stolen documents.
  • September 8, 2011
    DaibhidC
    • Layla Miller in X Factor. She knows stuff. At first it seems that "knowing stuff" is her mutant power, but in fact Future!Layla downloaded all the knowledge into Past!Layla's brain.
  • September 8, 2011
    acrobox
    Isabella in Advance Wars Days of Ruin
  • September 8, 2011
    Bisected8
    • Savants/Sages serve as these to inquisiters in the Warhammer 40 K universe. They're cybernetically enhanced to allow them to better store data and live long enough to gather it.
    • In the Ciaphas Cain novels, Amberly's savant, Caractacus Mott, is portrayed as a Gibbering Genius and has a habit of giving more exposition than Amberly would like Cain to recieve.
  • September 8, 2011
    Afrael
    In Eureka, an Instant AI Just Add Water creates a human body nearly from scratch and backups all information into the person's cells.
  • September 8, 2011
    kjnoren
    Simon Illyan in Vorkosigan Saga has an implanted organic chip that records everything he sees and hears, and which he can recall later. Most people who got the implant went crazy. Subverted in that only he has access to the memories, and that most of the memories stored are near useless.
  • September 8, 2011
    Gatomon41
    • Cordwainer Smith: In "Golden the Ship Was - Oh, Oh, Oh!" featured this trope, in which one of a four-manned ship recorded the actions of the Captain.
  • September 8, 2011
    LeeM
    The New Avengers episode "The Three-Handed Game" featured three agents with perfect memory. Each of them was shown one-third of a secret message and was sent to deliver it via a different route, so that in theory nobody could intercept the entire message. (Come to think of it, kinda like the way data packets work on the internet.) Of course the bad guy figured out a way.
  • September 8, 2011
    Unknown Troper
  • September 8, 2011
    shimaspawn
  • September 8, 2011
    69BookWorM69
    Captain Phantastic in One of Our Thursdays Is Missing. Granted, he's an elephant and not a human being, but he's a Civilized Animal working as the filing system for Jurisfiction and JAID in the BookWorld.
  • September 10, 2011
    Damr1990
    While Technically not a human Maha Ganeshariff from Megaman Zero he was designed as a Data server... who also works a as an Armored Lightning Bruiser, he was sent to Zero's original resting place to gather information, and after you defeat him, you gain acces to two new weapons for zero(or if you go with the manual expanation More variations of the Z-Saber
  • September 10, 2011
    deuxhero
    Compare Wetware CPU.

    Infact, let's call this Wetware Storage.
  • September 10, 2011
    guyy

    Also, in the laconic description: "whose main purpose," not "who's."
  • September 10, 2011
    randomsurfer
    In Marvel Comics, Recorders are humanoid robots designed to be "living" data recorders.
  • September 10, 2011
    JonnyB
    Would the human books at the end of Fahrenheit 451 count?
  • September 11, 2011
    Xelloss08
    The plot of the novel Hammerjack begins when a courier of this type dies and the message he was carrying preserves itself by turning the next closest human -- who happens to be the main character -- into its new carrier
  • September 11, 2011
    donald
    • X-Men: in the alternate Age of X timeline Rogue's code name was Reaper and it was her job to save all the memories of fallen mutants.
  • September 11, 2011
    hotrods4ben
    In Flight Of The Navigator, wasn't the kid's brain used to store star charts? I haven't seen it in years.
  • September 11, 2011
    hevendor717
    Toward the end of Fahrenheit451 the protagonist meets a team of men who have made it their life purpose to store books inside their minds through impeccable memorization. Since in this world, books get burned once the police find them.
  • September 12, 2011
    Damr1990
    Another Megaman Example, this, this time from the ZX Series
    • Protectos the Goreroid has a similar role to the one ofM Maha, a weaponized living Storage sever, howevere, unlike his counterpart, he's more of a traditional Mighty Glacier
  • September 12, 2011
    Chabal2
    Some servitors (crude, single-purpose cyborgs) in Warhammer 40 K are made for this. Some people also have databanks attached to their brains for this purpose.

  • September 13, 2011
    LoopyChew
    Compare Magical Database, as well.

    • This is what happens to Chuck -- he gets CIA and NSA information embedded in his head, necessitating one agent from each to protect him. Of course, he can use the combined intelligence to figure out scenarios that each agency wouldn't on its own.
  • September 13, 2011
    RazorSmile
    • There's the Karma Cathechist from the Eddie Drood books by Simon R. Green. He's a human storehouse of magical knowledge -- ALL the magical knowledge.
  • September 15, 2011
    kyeo
    In Doom Patrol, a doomsday cult is looking for something called the Book of the Fifth Window. It turns out to be a young man with writing all over his skin.
  • September 25, 2011
    TBeholder
    is anthropocentrism a part of the trope or other creatures can participate in examples too?
  • September 26, 2011
    LordGro
    I've never read the Frank Herbert's Dune books myself, but I have heard in the Dune universe they have "human computers" -- people whose sole job it is to memorize things.
  • September 26, 2011
    Duncan
    In Small Gods, Brutha has a Photographic Memory, so when a library is burning down, people make him read the books so they can still have the information. Unfortunately, he's also illiterate. But it works out okay.
  • September 26, 2011
    LarryD
    in Seirei No Moribito, one of the Mikado's elite memorizes a book of delivery tickets by flipping through it.
  • September 26, 2011
    Andygal
    Feruchemists in the Mistborn series can store memories in pieces of copper and retrieve them later, whereupon they will bbe recalled perfectly. They've used it to preserve knowledge that the Lord Ruler tried to destroy.
  • September 26, 2011
    surgoshan
    Angel The Series: "I'm Files and Records".
  • September 26, 2011
    WillBGood
    So what's the difference between this and Neuro Vault?
  • September 27, 2011
    kyun
    All the Persocoms in Chobits, although it's implied that the Chobits series of androids can do much more.
  • September 27, 2011
    Andygal
    ^ Neuro Vault appears to be about hiding information in a person's subconscious without them being aware of it. I suppose they could overlap.
  • October 17, 2011
    69BookWorM69
    @ LordGro The mentats you're referring to were more like human computers; after the Butlerian Jihad, it was forbidden to make devices that were too close to AI, and people were trained to serve as computing machines. As I recall, this was more along the lines of appraisal/analysis and provision of advice after the mentat considered the possible outcomes of a given course of action.
  • October 17, 2011
    Stratadrake
    Flight Of The Navigator seems correct -- the boy was abducted by an alien spacecraft and had a bunch of star charts stuffed into the other Ninety Percent Of Your Brain. When he was returned, he was taken in by government scienists first to figure out why he hadn't aged in several years, and they discovered all the maps/charts stored inside his brain.
  • October 17, 2011
    surgoshan
    Literature
    • Brian Henrickson of Time Scout has a Photographic Memory and works as a librarian. He might not have read every book important to the work of scouting and guiding, but you'll never prove it.
  • October 17, 2011
    randomsurfer
    Would the people in Fahrenheit451 who have memorized books in order to keep the books from disappearing count?
  • October 17, 2011
    SithkingZero
    AI's from the Marathon and Halo series count double- they are based on human brains, but are used to make life easier.
  • October 18, 2011
    Arivne
    The Alfred Hitchcock film The 39 Steps is from 1935. Our Handling Spoilers page has a Statute of Limitations policy: examples more than 50 years old don't need to be spoilered.
  • October 19, 2011
    69BookWorM69
    Has this been abandoned by the OP? Examples haven't been added, and there's no replies to editing suggestions.
  • October 19, 2011
    Folamh3
    • In Fahrenheit451 (book and film), all of the rebels become these, each committing one entire book to memory so they can recite it if all copies of it are destroyed.
  • December 10, 2011
    Omeganian
    The Mnemonic Service in Isaac Asimov's Sucker Bait.
  • December 11, 2011
    GoldenSandslash15
    The Doctor from Star Trek Voyager (also shown in Star Trek Deep Space Nine and Star Trek First Contact, but mostly in Voyager) was made specifically to contain all the knowledge of Starfleet Medical Officers.
  • December 11, 2011
    SeanMurrayI
    The main character in Johnny Mnemonic isn't a cyborg. He just has the equivalent of a USB harddrive implanted in his head for transporting data. This article is also looking pretty similar to the existing Neuro Vault; this should, at least be recognized as a supertrope for what is here.
  • December 11, 2011
    Met
    In The Time Machine (2002) a holographic AI librarian/computer called Vox works at the New York Public Library. Vox looks like a human and can answer any question you ask it.
  • July 11, 2012
    Perey
    As per Up For Grabs guidelines on untended YKTTWs, I've picked this one up, edited the original post to incorporate all given examples, and added more relationships to other tropes. Ready to launch on your signal...
  • July 11, 2012
    reub2000
    In Full Metal Alchemist, after the central library burns down, we learn that a former librarian names Sheska has memorized the entire contents of all of the books in the library. She is then paid by the Elric brothers to recreate books from the library.
  • July 11, 2012
    Squirrel
    H.G. Wells' "The First Men on the Moon" has some moon-aliens who's sole purpose is to remember things. They are brought in so they can learn English vocabulary, and have ridiculously large heads.
  • July 11, 2012
    Squirrel
    They already have large heads, they weren't brought in to get them. Sorry.
  • July 12, 2012
    Blubble
    I think it's worth expanding on the real life example a bit by mentioning the Greeks

    • Oral historians may serve this purpose for unwritten cultural legacies, with lifelong practice replacing magical or technological modification. In ancient greece, musicians and storytellers, and sometimes the educated elite were supposed to be able to recite the most famous epics (usually the Iliad or the Odyssey) by heart. As reported by his disciple Plato, Socrates was against writing itself: "It destroys memory and weakens the mind, relieving it of work that makes it strong. It is an inhuman thing."
  • July 12, 2012
    Xtifr
    • In Michael Kurland's novel The Unicorn Girl, the protagonists encounter a traveling band of hippies, which include a young woman who read an entire encyclopedia while under the influence of powerful drugs. She is able to answer an astounding array of technical or historical questions, but nothing about herself or her own feelings.

    eta: whoops, I had two different works confused. The right name is listed now.
  • July 12, 2012
    Perey
    Okay, all extra examples added. And with no dissenting votes, this baby's ready to launch!
  • July 14, 2012
    Xavon
    The title character of John Doe probably applies, if his becoming this was an intentional part of his resurrection.

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable

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