In 1937, H. G. Wells proposed a predigital, freely available World Encyclopedia to represent a civilization-saving World Brain.
In a series of talks and essays in 1937, H. G. Wells proselytized for what he called a “World Brain,” as manifested in a World Encyclopedia—a repository of scientifically established knowledge—that would spread enlightenment around the world and lead to world peace. Wells, known to readers today as the author of The War of the Worlds and other science fiction classics, was imagining something like a predigital Wikipedia. The World Encyclopedia would provide a summary of verified reality (in about forty volumes); it would be widely available, free of copyright, and utilize the latest technology.
Of course, as Bruce Sterling points out in the foreword to this edition of Wells's work, the World Brain didn't happen; the internet did. And yet, Wells anticipated aspects of the internet, envisioning the World Brain as a technical system of networked knowledge (in Sterling's words, a “hypothetical super-gadget”). Wells's optimism about the power of information might strike readers today as naïvely utopian, but possibly also inspirational.
Paperback$24.95 T ISBN: 9780262542562 176 pp. | 5.25 in x 8 in 1 b&w illus.
“A time-capsule from a moment perfectly like our own that could not be more different from our own—a vision of steampunk Wikipedian peace and noble truth vanquishing cynical lies. A utopia and a cautionary tale.”
author of Attack Surface and How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism
“In this forgotten gem, Wells gave the twenty-first century a preview of itself, both as it is and as it might be. World famous as a writer, thinker, forecaster and educator, Wells turned his energies in this book to bringing the world together through shared knowledge. Beautifully introduced, this World Brain is both brilliant and timely; its ambitious utopianism in a dark time is something many readers today might emulate.”
Dean of Humanities and Parr Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University; author of Inventing Tomorrow: H. G. Wells and the 20th Century
“Between two world wars, H. G. Wells reimagined universal education, envisioned a new global knowledge system, and even anticipated Wikipedia. World Brain is classic Wells: fascinating, thoughtful, inspiring, and deeply humane.”
Senior Scholar, Georgetown University; author of Academic Next: The Futures of Higher Education