I was browsing through wikipedia today looking for something about shared knowledge bases and came across an this wiki article on the “world brain”, an idea described by HG Wells in the late 30s as an encyclopedia of encyclopedias, accessible to all human kind. Here is an excerpt from the wikipage:
The world brain is “…a sort of mental clearing house for the mind, a depot where knowledge and ideas are received, sorted, summarized, digested, clarified and compared.” Wells felt that technological advances such as microfilm could be used towards this end so that “any student, in any part of the world, will be able to sit with his projector in his own study at his or her convenience to examine any book, any document, in an exact replica.” A similar view of an automated system for making all of humanity’s knowledge available to all had been proposed a few years earlier by Paul Otlet, one of the founders of information science.
Aside from drawing the obvious conclusion that HG Wells was describing if not predicting something like Wikipedia it is also intriguing to note that the excerpt also refers to Paul Otlet one of the founders of information science who posited a similar idea. Two noted individuals from the early part of the 20th century, one a science fiction writer and futurist and the other a “librarian” both articulating this idea of universal knowledge. I don’t wonder what they would think of Google.