There are some books that are simply too delicate to crack open -- the last thing you want to do is destroy an ornate medieval Bible simply because you're curious about its contents. If MIT has its way, though, you won't have to stay away. Its scientists have crafted a computational imaging system that can read the individual pages of a book while it's closed. Their technology scans a book using terahertz radiation, and relies on the tiny, 20-micrometer air gaps between pages to identify and scan those pages one by one. A letter interpretation algorithm (of the sort that can defeat captchas) helps make sense of any distorted or incomplete text.
This doesn't mean you'll be reading fragile manuscripts any time soon. The current implementation can only read about nine pages deep before it's overwhelmed by noise, and it can't even gauge the depth beyond 20 pages. MIT will need to improve both the power and overall accuracy of its terahertz tech before you can read that precious first-run copy of War and Peace. The very fact that it's a possibility is exciting, however. Historians could read books that they're too afraid to touch in the first place, or let fellow researchers have a peek at a book they've read without worrying about additional wear and tear.