H. G. Wells lobbied widely in the 1920's and 30's for something he called a “World Brain,” a continuously updated Global Encyclopedia containing the sum total of human knowledge. He described it with terms we might call “cybernetic” now, although Norbert Wiener wouldn't write a book with that name for more than a decade. Did Wells really predict the Internet? Not really. The enabling technology would have been unimaginable for him. But he was on the right track.
Wells was already a pretty damned good forecaster by that point. It's easy enough to check out his predictions for the 20th Century in an uncopyrighted (at least in the 1902 book called Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress Upon Human Life and Thought For road travel, for example, he predicted use of the “motor truck,” the “motor carriage,” and the “motor omnibus.”
That's “tractor trailer,” “car,” and “bus” to you. From that he extrapolated a new kind of road that “will be very different from macadamized roads; they will be used only by soft-tired conveyances; the battering horseshoes, the perpetual filth of horse traffic, and the clumsy wheels of laden carts will never wear them.” And from that he was able to predict that the United States would become the home of suburban sprawl.
He even saw Amazon.com coming … well, almost … together with a continued need for shopping centers. He wrote: “(F)or all such “shopping” as one cannot do by telephone or postcard (okay, okay – I said almost!), it will still be natural for the shops to be gathered together in some central place.” He went on:
“And so, though the centre will probably still remain the centre … it will be essentially a bazaar, a great gallery of shops and places of concourse and rendezvous, a pedestrian place, its pathways reinforced by lifts and moving platforms, and shielded from the weather, and altogether a very spacious, brilliant, and entertaining agglomeration.”
Did you catch that? The guy predicted shopping malls, for crying out loud. In 1902! It wouldn't have been surprising if he had foreseen the Yogurt Hut and Urban Outfitters while he was at it. He didn't do as well at global issues. He predicted a disastrous conflict that would eliminate the ruling oligarchies of the 20th Century, replacing them with the more enlightened intellectual meritocracy of a “New Republic.”
So he got a Big Question wrong. But how about those shopping malls? And he predicted dishwashing liquids, too. (I'm not making that up.)
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