How many unique things have humans made?

Say I’m an alien archivist wanting to document the entirety of human material culture. I want one of every unique thing humans have made. To clarify, that doesn’t mean I want a T.V, a Blender etc, but one of every model of T.V ever made, one of every model of Blender ever made, one of every book ever printed, one of every type of hat ever produced. How many things would that be?
This question might be impossible to answer, but I’d be happy if I got within an order of magnitude (e.g. high hundreds of millions, low billions).
Doing a bit of research around this topic myself, I know there are more than 130 million books alone, so I imagine the actual answer would be at least in the high hundreds of millions, if not billions.

It would certainly be at least billions, given that books are but only one invention that humans have made and humans have made thousands of inventions.

What about chopsticks, for instance? If someone has green chopsticks are they different than red chopsticks even if their shape is the same? If there is only slightly different shape style, are they a unique invention?

I hope the alien you has loads of quatloos.

Are you only looking for things sold commercially? If you mean any unique object made by a human then you have to consider for most human history unique individually made objects exceeded the number of all others. There was early mass production of a kind. Humans could cooperate to produce objects in quantity, so when a village gets a pottery wheel a lot of pottery could be produced by dividing up tasks. That pottery could be considered a make, with perhaps several models. Still, this can be done in village after village over time so each would be a different make with their own unique models. And all along, and even now, individuals would continue to make unique products from clay. Until the Industrial Revolution few commercial products were affordable by any but the rich while individuals continued to make almost everything they could themselves, and even the rich usually paid or forced individuals to make things for them.

There are estimates that 117 billion people have ever lived (a starting date of 190000BCE was considered the start date), the number of unique objects ever made should easily exceed the 117 billion count of people if we count every unique sharpened stone, pointy stick, pottery vessel, chair, table, door, sandal, etc.

8,223,719,716,663…oops, now it’s 8,223,947,990,004.

I concur with @TriPolar. The number is going to be thousands of times the number of humans who ever existed.

I think humans got banned from here.

When I make a pot of chili for my family for dinner, does this count as making a thing?

If I make two pots of chili on two different nights using the same ingredients according to the same recipe, is this one thing or two things?

If I make two pots of chili on two different nights following the same recipe, except in one pot I use red beans and black beans, but in the other pot I use red beans and black-eyed peas, is this one thing or two things?

If I make cornbread on the side, is this two separate things (chili and cornbread) or one thing (dinner)?

Just trying to get a sense of the boundaries so we can say billions or hundreds of billions.

I made some babies.
No, you’re not getting one of those.

Your chili inquiry makes the think of this…

Unclear exactly why.

I was going to guess maybe 10, but that may be low.

Infinite. Humans made language, and there are infinite sentences (that can be) made of it. And many other things besides, but that pales compared to sentences. There is no order of magnitude applicable to infinite.

Some good points here. Lets narrow down the boundaries a bit. Lets just say only mass-produced things, ignoring hand made things (so most things made before the industrial revolution). So a diary a person wrote would be excluded, but any book mass printed would be included. How many unique mass produced things have humans made?

[pedant mode]Sentences use a finite number of words. No matter how many permutations of a finite set are made, the result will always be finite.[/pedant mode]

Math functions because it has incredibly strict definitions, rules, and procedures. “Things” doesn’t. Books are singled out as unique. What about chairs? Pens? Crossword puzzles? Laws?

Without definitions, the proper and only answer is “many.”

It’s a study in insanity to try and actually count these things.

I think some time staring at my belly button would actually be more productive.
Someone let me know if an answer is agreed upon.

Cause, I really really wanna know🤔

A little further clarification. I meant a physical item, something that you could display in a cabinet or in a museum. So not anything abstract or intangible like words or laws or concepts. What counts as a meaningfully different thing is a good question, and ultimately somewhat arbitrary. Lets say its a unique thing if a person can differentiate between it and other things (e.g. someone could tell that two pens made from different manufacturers are different). So if I was deciding whether to count something the boundaries are:

  1. It has to be a physical thing.
  2. It has to be something mass-produced, not handmade.
  3. It has to be distinguishable from other things by an average person.
    I still don’t know if that question is in anyway answerable, but the answer is definitely finite. It’s certainly fun to think about.

Any given sentence has a finite number of words, but there’s no limit on the number of words in a sentence. If you claim that there are a finite number of possible sentences, then there must be some finite number n such that you can say “There are less than n different sentences”. But as soon as you specify n, I can give you n+1 different examples of sentences. Heck, I can give you that many sentences, all constructed entirely out of the word “buffalo”.

Back to pinning down the OP, I think it’s probably a good criterion to say that, from the perspective of someone selling the things, they count as the “same thing” if it makes no difference to the seller which one you buy. So a beige 2005 Toyota Camry is the “same thing” as a white 2005 Toyota Camry, because they’d both have exactly the same price and so on (though a customer might prefer one color or the other).

Though that does raise the question, what about customization? A car of a given model can come with or without cruise control, or automatic transmission, or Bluetooth connectivity, or power windows, or genuine leather interior, or probably a bunch of other optional features. With just ten different include-or-not optional features, you can get over a thousand distinct customizations. Do each of those count as a separate “thing”? Or is it enough to get one car with none of them, and one with all of them, so you have examples of both?

According to my handy calculator, the top 12 countries on this list account for 14,457,836 active patents.

Considering that every one of those patents represents something unique, and patents only cover commercial inventions (you can’t patent a non-functional item, for example), and you can combine many of those patented items to make new items, and many older patents have expired, I wouldn’t be surprised if the total number of unique things is more than that number squared.

That works out to something over two trillion.

That’s about 17000 unique items for each person that ever lived. Seems just a tad high doesn’t it? The factors are the number of unique products a person buys in their lifetime and the average number of those items produced. Not going to be easy to calculate either of them. It’s not like people buy all the same type of product or buy consistently through their lives.

I wasn’t making a definitive claim, I just said I wouldn’t be surprised. But I didn’t include all the books ever written, all the poems, songs, PhD dissertations, paintings, sculptures, cooking recipes, etc. Plus, it’s entirely possible no two things that were ever made by hand were exactly identical, and therefore all unique.

But if you think two trillion is still too high a number, feel free to knock off two or three digits.