Monday, 29 January 2007

Looking ahead

Two days ago I mentioned a remarkable guess made by Hal Draper in 1961 in the form of a fantasy about a problem that future generations of mankind might face.

More than fifty years earlier a more famous writer had made a similarly inspired guess. E M Forster wrote a short story call The Machine Stops which he said was “a reaction to one of H G Wells’ earlier heavens”. It describes a society in which two twentieth-century technological advances have progressed in a way that few could have foreseen.

The first is automation: machines run everything in Forster’s future world, maintaining and repairing themselves and leaving nothing for humans to do except be entertained and indulge their intellectual and artistic interests. It has long been forgotten that machines were designed and built by men, and The Machine, beneficent and all-providing, has become a sort of deity.

Second, in that world people live in individual cells and rarely meet face to face—and indeed prefer not to. The automatic transport systems continue to work but are hardly ever used, for no-one needs to go anywhere. They obtain whatever they need by pressing buttons and are in constant communication with each other irrespective of distance.

Thus Forster in 1909, in an extraordinary feat of imagination , brings into being television, videoconferencing and the internet.

As you might gather from the title, it all ends in tears. But there is a glimmer of hope left, so you will not be too depressed if you read the story here.

1 comment:

Birdy said...

This has always been a story that has fascinated me from an early age. Now I know why.Thank you for the link.