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martes, 15 de septiembre de 2009

Las más importantes predicciones de H. G. Wells

Fuente.

En 1901, H.G. Wells miró al naciente siglo y predijo cosas como los suburbios, las máquinas voladoras, que EEUU se iba a convertir en una superpotencia y las áceras móviles. Pero también tuvo algunos errores.

Durante la primera mitad del siglo XX, H. G. Wells fue considerado como uno de los intelectuales más destacados del momento. Él influyó en la dirección de la literatura, la educación, la biología, la ciencia, la política social y la historia del siglo. Fue amigo y condidente de prácticamente todas las grandes personas de Inglaterra, como George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce, Henry James, T.H. Huxley, Bertrand Russell, y Winston Churchill. Su académico Outline of History [Bosquejo de la historia] de 1920 fue un éxito de ventas durante muchos años y todavía se imprime.

Hoy en día, sin embargo, H.G. Wells es principalmente recordado, en todo caso, como el autor de unas pocas novelas de ciencia ficción, como La máquina del tiempo, El hombre invisible y La guerra de los mundos. Estas novelas, sin embargo, no son consideradas como grandes obras de arte, y existe poca conciencia de sus logros o su influencia sobre el mundo moderno, excepto entre los especialistas.

En su novela de 1914 The World Set Free [El mundo se hace libre], él predice la división del átomo, el desarrollo posterior de las bombas atómicas y el lanzamiento de las mismas desde aviones. En su novela de 1933 The Shape of Things to Come [La formas de las cosas que vendrán], él predice el estallido de una Guerra Mundial en 1940, asombrosamente cerca de la fecha real, el 1 de septiembre de 1939. Pero de lejos el mayor y más inquietante trabajo profético fue su libro Anticipaciónes.

Anticipaciones: Analizando los pronósticos de Wells


En 1901, a la edad de 35, Wells publicó un libro pequeño pero ampliamente leído llamado Anticipaciones, y subtitulado Sobre las reacciones del progreso científico y mecánico sobre la vida y el pensamiento humanos. Ofreciendo mucho más que una lista de accesorios y cosas asombrosas y nuevas por venir, Wells trata con diferentes clases de cambios técnicos y sociales. Los cambios tratados en el capítulo 1 a menudo sirven como base para la discusión en el siguiente capítulo, casi en una exposición matemática. El objetivo fue describir el desarrollo del mundo en los 100 años siguientes a 1901. El libro contiene predicciones sobre tecnología, distribución de la población, economía, la estructura de clases, dirección de empresas y liderazgo, educación, política, la vida diaria, problemas sociales, las lenguas dominantes y los asuntos internacionales.

Anticipaciones está escrito en un estilo narrativo, sin una clasificación numerada, lo cual hace difícil la tabulación y clasificación de las predicciones de Wells. Por ejemplo, decidir si una predicción se engloba dentro de otra o que sea redundante, de decidir si un artículo es lo suficientemente importantes como para merecer una mención aparte, a veces es una cuestión de juicio. Además, las predicciones de Wells muchas veces toman la forma de una propuesta o una suposición. Con el fin de evaluar los éxitos predictivos de Wells y los fallos, la discusión que sigue incluye un resumen un poco crítico, pero representativo, de las predicciones en la narración de sus Anticipations.

Con el fin de evaluar los éxitos predictivo de Wells y sus fallos, la discusión que sigue incluye un resumen un poco crítico, pero representativo, de las predicciones en la narración de sus Anticipations.

Predicción: la decadencia de los motores de vapor y el auge de nuevos modos de transporte.

El primer capítulo analiza la evolución de las previsiones que conduce a aumentos en la velocidad de los viajes en el curso del siglo XX. Wells apunta a los factores que pueden resultar en un declive de la fuerza del vapor para buques y ferrocrriles en favor de los motores de combustión interna y de las turbinas. El tráfico ferroviario, indica, se encuentra su mayor uso en el transporte de mercancías pesadas, y analiza la disminución del tiempo de espera de los ferrocarriles en comparación con el tráfico y los coches, incluidos los procedentes de las autopistas de acceso limitado. Wells prevé el desarrollo de áreas libres de vehículos en el centro de las ciudades, el metro y el uso a gran escala de aceras móviles. Una nota al pie en este capítulo analiza el uso de máquinas voladoras. Wells propone que aunque estarán en uso en el siglo XX, "no introducirán importantes modificaciones en los transportes y las comunicaciones".

* Resultado: acierta de lleno en los motores de combustión interna y los cambios en el estilo de vida sociado; falla en los viajes aéreos.

Wells prevé con precisión los cambios del la propulsión a vapor al motor de combustión interna y a la turbina. También prevé con acierto la viniente especialización del ferrocaril hacia las mercaderías y la del trasnporte por carreteras hacia el trafico de vehículos particulares independientes. Él previsiones de autopistas, paseos libres de tráfico y una estricta regulación de vehículos y el tráfico en las ciudades resulta profética.

De otro lado, Wells es completamente ajeno al eventual significado del aeroplano para el transporte de masas a larga distancia y los viajes internacionales. Él perfectamente prevé las aceras móviles pero sobrestima su significado y su importancia. Irónicamente, porque él no anticipa los aeropuertos, no prevé que estos usarán masivamente las áceras móviles en el futuro. El metro atrae poco su atención, quizás porque puso demasiado enfasis en las aceras móviles.

Predicción: un nuevo estilo de vida, el complejo ciudad-suburbio.

El incremento de la velocidad y la disponibilidad de los transportes, junto con un mayor uso de los servicios de correo y teléfono, le llevó a Wells a pronosticar en el capítulo segundo una gran aumento del tamaño de las ciudades, junto a una disminución de la densidad media; en una palabra, suburbios. Los centros de las ciudades se convertirán en centro de compras y entretenimiento, más que como áreas de gran densidad de viviendas.

Una de las localizaciones de los gigantescos complejos ciudad-suburbios que é prevé para ela ño 2000 es la megalópolis Boston-Washington. Habrá una tendencia hacia agrupar los barrios por estilos de vida y estilos arquitectónicos, como por ejemplo, enormes barrios sin estilo. También pronosticó las oficinas en los suburbios y vecindarios separados por riqueza y raza, y que por 1950 la oficina postal entregará todo tipo de productos, tanto alimenticios como fuel.

* Resultado: acierta de pleno en la expansión de los suburbios y las megaciudades.

Wells, aunque certero sobre la vida en las ciudades del siglo XX y su expansión desordenada, calculó en exceso el tamaño de los mayores centros urbanos del mundo. Wells predice que la población de Londres podría ser de unos 20 millones para el año 2000, mientras que Londres y sus áreas urbanas colindantes tienen una población de poco más de 8 millones. La zona urbana de Nueva York es de 19 millones, mientras que Wells predijo la cifra de alrededor de 40 millones. Sin embargo, uno debe hacer constar que lo que Wells considera una zona urbana no está precisamente definido y, sea cual sea la cifra, un error de la mitad o una tercera parte en una previsión de 100 años no es tan mala.

Predicción: estratificación social

En el capítulo 3º, Wells describe el desarrollo que espera de cuatro reconocibles pero no totalmente distintas clases sociales en el siglo XX. En primer lugar, anticipa el continuo crecimiento de una parte de la sociedad relativamente rica compuesta por propietarios e inversores no gerentes. Esto es lo que él llama riqueza "no responsable". Wells cree que esta clase social será potencialmente poderosa y no progresista y demasiado variada en sus intereses como para defender sus intereses durante mucho tiempo.

En segundo lugar, en una manera muy distópica, Wells augura la existencia de una subclase compuesta por los pobres, los analfabetos y aquellos que han quedado desempleados a rsultas del cambio tecnológico. Wells pronostica que esta clase estará compuesta por criminales, inmorales y arásitos del resto de la sociedad.

Una tercera clase social, que Wells imagina como la única clase social realmente productiva, estaría compuesta por aquellos individuos que tienen la capacidad intelectual y el caracter personal adecuada a loas necesidades de los científicos y técnicos, así como ciertas profesiones como doctores y soldados.

Una cuarta clase comprende a aquellos “hombres que no son productivos pero están activos y que se dedican a la organización, promoción, publicidad y el comercio”. Comprenden a “los directivos empresariales, tanto públicos como privados, los organizadores políticos, intermediarios, comisionistas, financieros, especuladores y la gran masa de sus empleados, secretarias, mecanografistas y asistentes”.

* Outcome: A hit on stratification; misses on minorities and human potential.

The four classes of society that Wells delineates-i.e., the "irresponsible" wealthy, the poor underclass, the technicians and professionals, and the managers-can easily be said to exist today in the United States as well as in all other developed countries. The prediction becomes especially accurate in that Wells describes these classes as not totally distinct, but as blurring into one another.

The problem with the accuracy of his social stratification prediction is that, while he envisions some blurring of these class lines, he obviously expects the four classes to be more discrete than they are now or typically were during the twentieth century. He also seems to anticipate a greater degree of class identification and shared values within each of the four classes than has actually been the case.

Furthermore, Wells states that none of the classes, except the technical and professional, has any productive role in a scientific and technological society. This view has never been accepted by society at large, and, of course, in the twentieth century it became common for technical and professional people to have inherited wealth, be business managers, promoters, etc., and vice versa. Wells's chief concern in his discussion of social class is to highlight the increasing importance of the scientific and technically trained individual in modern society. Hardly anyone would dispute that Wells is right in emphasizing-from the 1901 perspective-the future importance of this group, but he is wrong in thinking the scientific and technical professions would be divorced from many other niches.

There are jarring instances of gender, racial, ethnic, and national prejudice in Anticipations, which may have predisposed Wells to envision future class rigidities and attitudes. More importantly, Wells's Anglosupremacist attitudes may have prevented him from foreseeing some of the really dramatic social changes during the course of the century. Despite his insistence that merit would eventually come to prevail over privilege in the modern world, he seems to carelessly and tastelessly dismiss the potential of African, Asian, Irish, Jewish, and other groups.

Prediction: Moral Relativism and the Decline of Codes of Conduct

The fourth chapter of Anticipations, focusing broadly on the home and family environment, forecasts a general breakdown of commonly accepted standards of morality in favor of many different standards. Wells predicts all kinds of vice being practiced and tolerated, an increase in the number of childless marriages, and the decline of traditional marriage. He sees a relaxation of marriage laws and living arrangements and more children of all ages in boarding schools.

* Outcome: A hit on a twentieth century rejection of Victorian ideas of morality and "normalcy."

It is a modern truism that moral standards changed dramatically over the course of the twentieth century. While historians might debate the degree of hypocrisy implicit in Victorian morality, it is obvious that there was more agreement then on what constituted the moral ideal than exists now. Wells's predictions about a coming breakdown relative to Victorian standards must be judged as correct. His forecast about marriage laws and cohabitation are a case in point, as is his prediction about a rise in childless marriages. His prediction that young people would be routinely sent to boarding school instead of being raised at home has not proved true.

From a twenty-first-century perspective, vice may not be as rampant and widely tolerated as Wells anticipated, but it is necessary to remember the audience for Anticipations was a 1901 readership. What we now consider normal, or at least common in terms of male and female relationships-divorce and remarriage, homosexuality, pornography, depiction of violence, drug use, etc.-would probably seem to be a shockingly high level of vice to the average person at the beginning of the twentieth century, fully validating Wells's judgments in that frame of reference.

Prediction: The End of Democracy and the Decline of Serious News Media

The fifth chapter foresees the end of representative democracy, possibly after a period of control by

a group of highly forcible and intellectual persons . . . financiers and their associates, their perfected mechanism of party control working the elections boldly and capably, and their public policy being directed towards financial ends.

The extent or duration of this control, should it take place, Wells sees as being limited by the weighty influence of the middle class mentioned in chapter three-i.e., technicians, engineers, scientific personnel, doctors, and the military. Wells sees democracy and associated rule by "irresponsible" wealth being superseded as a result of the failure of democracies to successfully function under the stresses posed by modern warfare. His rationale for believing that democracy will pass away is that political parties in a democracy always choose the appearance of action over the reality of actually doing anything, and this just won't work in wartime. Along the way, newspapers will increasingly turn from providing in-depth news to providing entertainment, hourly news, and advertising. Making money will be the newspaper's dominant goal.

* Outcome: Two misses-democracy succeeds, media multiply.

The twentieth century did not, as Wells forecast, see the end of parliamentary-style democracy. Rather than proving unequal to the strain of total war, democracies adapted, overcoming the supposedly more focused and efficient authoritarian regimes of Germany, Japan, and Italy.

As Wells thought, an evolution of specialized newspapers and reporting has occurred, but the explosion in types of media and their hugely important role in twentieth-century society seems to have been overlooked.

Prediction: New Modes of Warfare-Total, Industrial, Scientific, and Unconventional

Machines and technicians will replace horses and unsophisticated soldiers as the primary means of waging war, says Wells. This, in turn, will require the involvement of civilians and the economy to an unprecedented degree as a part of the war-making effort. This involvement of erstwhile civilians will increasingly make them as much targets of military action as uniformed soldiers. Furthermore, the need for scientific, factory, and logistical support of the new form of fighting will require governments to efficiently mobilize all of the people, control and direct business, and harness science in order to avoid losing in this kind of war.

In adapting to war needs, both government and society at large will be transformed in ways that will carry over to the intervals of peace. Wars would be between peoples, not merely between armies and navies.

In the process of making these broad points, Wells makes a number of other specific observations, such as:

* Automatic weapons and other small arms improvements will make guerrilla warfare more effective and prevalent.

* Infantry movement using cover, concealment, night fighting, and foxholes will supersede mass clashes.

* Aerial observation and air support will be increasingly important.

* Armored guns and "land ironclads" will play a role on the battlefield.

* Communications based on telephone and wireless will be important.

* A military and civilian meritocracy will displace aristocratic privilege.

* Future "wars will be won in the schools and colleges and universities."

From his perspective in 1901, Wells thinks that airplanes would not be perfected until 1950 or so, and maybe as late as 2000. He dismisses submarines because he thinks they would be too blind and toxic to the crew to be effective. He dismisses capital ships in favor of small fast ships using ramming as a primary offensive technique. He believes that bicycles would be the primary means of increasing the mobility of infantry and that tanks are probably too slow to be decisive.

* Outcome: Hits on total war, guerrillas, scientific role, World War I strategy; misses on naval war and World War II strategy.

Wells correctly foresees that wars in the twentieth century would serve as an important catalyst for achieving increased societal recognition for scientific and technical personnel. In other words, he correctly sees the rise of the military-industrial complex.

Wells successfully predicts the advent of the long-drawn-out total wars of the twentieth century, along with many of the postwar social changes brought about by the two World Wars and the Cold War.

He is fairly successful in predicting developments along the lines of the trench warfare that occurred in World War I, but less successful in predicting land-fighting developments thereafter.

He correctly anticipates that small arms improvements would make guerrilla warfare more effective and more likely. He is wrong, however, on naval battles as being more likely fought between small ships using ramming tactics and submarines becoming useless.

Prediction: The Rise of One Dominant Language and a Global Information Network

The chapter on "The Conflict of Languages" emphasizes the role of poor travel and communications in bringing about language differences. Conversely, good communications and increased trade will help do away with dialects and languages limited to a specific geographic area. Wells says that English, but perhaps French, will be the dominant world language in the twentieth century, although Chinese or Japanese may dominate in the Far East. Wells views educational achievement, the amount of publications, and the distribution of knowledge, particularly scientific knowledge, as critical to world language dominance. In this regard, Wells advocates assembling a world encyclopedia of all human knowledge that would be available to all. Partly on the basis of the vanishing national languages in Europe, Wells foresees an economically united Europe by 1950.

* Outcome: A hit and a near miss, English and Wikipedia overtaking the globe.

Just as Wells expects, English is used across the world for business, scientific, and technical communication. Increasingly it is also displacing or radically changing other languages, even for local use. One language is quickly becoming-but is not yet-the world standard.

Wells's proposal for an encyclopedia of all human knowledge sounds as if it is intended to function like today's World Wide Web (or perhaps the Web and Wikipedia), although Wells does not anticipate the use of computers.

Prediction: Fuller Economic, Cultural, and Political Integration on a Global Scale

Chapter eight notes that as of 1901 a world economy already exists in terms of its interdependencies. According to Wells, processes like those favoring economic integration will facilitate widespread political and cultural assimilation. Specifically, while Wells expects considerable numbers of subcultures to persist, such as the Jewish culture, he expects that eventually three overarching political-cultural areas of influence will cover the globe in the course of the twentieth century. The first one to appear is an Englishspeaking power bloc, then a central European, and finally an East Asian power bloc.

The English-speaking power bloc would be centered in the eastern United States and exist in the form of a federation that "administers" the former British empire, the Americas south of the Mexican border, much of the South and Middle Pacific, the East and West Indies, and much of Africa. The European bloc would include western and eastern Europe, the Mediterranean basin, and western Russia. Wells anticipates a Russia eventually split into two parts, with the eastern part drawn into the Asian area of influence. The East Asian area includes China, Japan, eastern Russia, and presumably what we would refer to these days as Southeast Asia.

Wells does not anticipate that the formation of these blocs would necessarily be the result of peaceful evolution. He writes, for example, that Germany might try for dominance in place of the united republic-type Europe that he foresees, but to do that, "She must fight the Russian and fight the French and perhaps the English, and she may have to fight a combination of these powers."

He also forecasts:

German aggression will either be shattered or weakened . . . by a series of wars by land and sea.

* Outcome: Hits-after two World Wars, a globalized, westernized planet.

With some exceptions, the geopolitical world that Wells thinks will materialize during the twentieth century is strikingly similar to the world that actually has emerged. In the form of "Westernization," political and cultural assimilation, as Wells anticipates, has occurred worldwide.

Subcultures continue to thrive largely within terms of the overarching Western cultural thrust.

Wells accurately foresees that Germany will attempt to dominate Europe, if not the world, but be defeated repeatedly in this attempt.

European economic integration, which Wells predicts happening by 1951, actually came into being in stages beginning in 1952. A Federal Europe that he thinks would be in place by the beginning of the twenty-first century is now substantially in place as the European Union (EU), and it covers most of the area that Wells thought it would.

Today, China and Japan are the economic powerhouses in East Asia. In total, but not yet acting together, they exercise a great and growing influence-cultural, military, political-on the whole Asian region. With the growth of Japan, China, and the Asian tigers, it is not too difficult for us to imagine an East Asian power bloc eventually coming into being on a par with the United States and Europe, as Wells believed would come about.

Prediction: A Technocratic State, a New Religion, and Eugenics

Chapter nine of Anticipations describes the religious attitudes, moral environment, and public policies that are likely to prevail by the time a world state arises. Wells indicates that a globally interconnected state will come into existence due to the growth of an international corporate sense of self-awareness among the world's scientific, technical, and professional elites. Wells refers to this international corporate function as the New Republic. The common interests of the technocratic elites gradually cause the disappearance of nation-states and the eventual integration of the three global power blocs.

The theory of evolution will, he says, allow humanity to dispose of the belief in human equality. Only a portion of the population is fitted to understand and operate efficiently in the scientific and technical world of Wells's New Republic. An elite technocratic portion of the population will manage the world of tomorrow-i.e., our world today. Consistent with this, Wells thinks that various policies, including severe eugenic control and euthanasia, will be exercised by the state to limit reproduction among the noncontributory parts of the population. Wells presumes, however, that the productiveness and efficiency of individuals will be the sole criterion for one's membership in the coming New Republic's technocratic elite.

The religious outlook he anticipates to be in vogue today perhaps resembles Unitarianism in its attitude toward the Creator more than modern Protestantism or Catholicism, but includes an almost fundamentalist emphasis on free will, individual responsibility, and activism.

According to Wells, the New Republic will limit great wealth. As a result, public policies of progressive taxation and heavy death duties will be in place to even out income differences.

Due to a decreased incidence of traditional marriage, the state will assume an increased role in assuring the health, education, and general welfare of offspring, Wells believes. It will vigorously enforce the acceptance of parental responsibilities, and "be the reserve guardian of all children." In particular, the technocratic state will guarantee each child (as well as adults) access to lifelong educational opportunities.

* Outcome: Hits on child care and educational opportunity; misses on a world state, eugenic controls, and religion.

Despite the existence currently of the United Nations and international organizations like the World Bank and the World Trade Organization, a politically unified world state has not come about. It seems unlikely that it will happen by the mechanism that Wells contemplates-i.e., a conscious undertaking by common agreement of the world's scientific and technical elite. Nevertheless, it doesn't seem farfetched to imagine that globalization policy makers, experts, and technocrats may eventually morph into a twenty-first-century world state. He appears to be somewhat in error on the timing of such a state and maybe even in its ultimate existence, but he should be given credit for identifying real tendencies of various actors on the twentieth-century world stage.

Wells's belief that great wealth would be discouraged by progressive taxation and death duties has been a policy that most Western governments have pursued for much of the period Wells describes. Wealthlimiting policies, however, have been more characteristic of European than American practice, and more typical of the middle of the twentieth century than the end.

He also believes that the laissezfaire market would be highly regulated. Over the course of the century, the amount of regulation by governments has been mixed, varying from a socialist perspective to freewheeling capitalism. Again, the European and developing world experience has been substantially different from the American. On market regulation, Wells is about half right.

His attempt to predict the religious beliefs of the twentieth century must be marked mostly a failure. The Unitarian-like religion foreseen for the technocratic core of society he postulates seems not to have developed.

The rise of the policy ethic that modern governments should provide universal educational opportunity to youth, and have a particular concern for scientific and technical fields, is accurately foreshadowed in Anticipations. Wells is also correct in suggesting that the state will deem itself to be the reserve guardian of all children.

He seems to have been right in insisting that competence would increasingly replace privilege as a dominant societal ethic of twentieth century.

How Successful Was Wells?

According to a detailed tabulation by the author almost 80% of Wells's Anticipations predictions were right or partly right, with about 60% being extremely accurate.

Perhaps the most glaring oversight in Anticipations is that it reads as if the Victorian roles assigned to women-homemaker and companion-were the only roles possible. That there would be about as many women in the modern workplace as men apparently did not occur to him.

Wells also failed to comment on the possibility of Islam and other world faiths having a significant effect on twentieth-century history.

Additionally, Wells also did not foresee many of the most important technical developments of the twentieth century in Anticipations. His later works, however, forecast many of these missing twentieth-century advances well before they became reality.

From the various societal and technical omissions and mistakes cited, one can conclude that Wells was still far from achieving a true "history-in-advance" of the twentieth century. What he did accomplish must nonetheless be judged to be an amazing achievement, and one that begs for further investigation as to how he managed it.

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