Ask Ray | E.M. Forster’s 1909 story ‘The Machine Stops’ predicts the web, tablets and artificial intelligence

June 30, 2014

Dear readers,

A remarkable foreshadowing of the internet, tablet computers and artificial intelligence from a century ago: E.M. Forster’s 1909 short story “The Machine Stops.”

Ray Kurzweil

Wikipedia | “The Machine Stops” is a science fiction short story by E. M. Forster. After initial publication in The Oxford and Cambridge Review in November 1909, the story was republished in Forster’s The Eternal Moment and Other Stories in 1928. The story is notable for predicting new technologies such as instant messaging and the internet.

A television adaptation, directed by Philip Saville, was shown in 1966 as part of the British science fiction anthology TV series Out of the Unknown. Playwright Eric Coble’s 2004 stage adaptation was broadcast in 2007 on WCPN 90.3 FM in Cleveland.

BBC Radio 4 aired Gregory Norminton’s adaptation as a radio play. TMS: The Machine Stops is a graphic novel series adaptation written by Michael Lent with art by Marc Rene, published by Alterna Comics in February, 2014.

Stephen Baxter’s story “Glass Earth Inc.” refers explicitly to “The Machine Stops” in the book Phase Space. The song “The Machine Stops” by Level 42 not only shares the same title with the story, but also has lyrics that echo Kuno’s thoughts.

Forster is most famous for his novels Where Angels Fear to Tread, The Longest Journey, A Room with a View, and A Passage to India.


related reading:
Wikipedia | “The Machine Stops”
Wikipedia | E.M. Forster
Wikipedia | Phase Space


(credit: M.J. Hahn)

Listen to the short story “The Machine Stops” narrated by M.J. Hahn:

writer: E.M. Forster
narrator: M.J. Hahn
featuring: Mike Bennett as Kuno
featuring: Sally Clawson as Vashti
featuring: Tristy Taylor as airship attendant

trailer | E.M. Forster’s 1909 dystopian fable paints a picture of an eerie future which doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility. Presented in three parts.


part 1 — The Airship | 2000 years in the distant future, mankind is living underground, chained to a technological nightmare of its own creation. E.M. Forster’s 1909 dystopian fable presents a chilling vision which doesn’t seem outside of the realm of possibility.


part 2 — The Mending Apparatus | Vashti does the unthinkable and travels across the world to see her son. Kuno’s insistence for the barbaric custom of face to face communication is revealed when he tells of his journey to the surface of Earth.


part 3 — The Homeless | Kuno’s ravings about The Machine stopping are largely ignored by Vashti, until she notices some interruptions in her day to day routine. How unmechanical! The realization arrives too late that Kuno was speaking the truth.


related viewing:

Pamilow | Out Of The Unknown was a science fiction and supernatural BBC TV series that ran from 1965 to 1971. Many of the 49 episodes are currently classed as lost. “The Machine Stops” was first broadcast on October 6, 1966.


related listening:

about | Level 42 sings “The Machine Stops” from the album Standing in the Light.

Level 42 | “The Machine Stops” from Standing in the Light

I found the air, down here in the chambers. You warned me of danger.
But I want to stop this for a moment. There must be someone in the open.

Waiting for the starlight, rendezvous at midnight.
I want to touch them and to love them. And we’ll be there when it’s over.

Can you hear the voices calling out the choices?
Spend a lifetime going nowhere. The machine stops and it’s over.

All the love we’ll never know. The machine has got control.
I found the air, the machine stops.

related reading:
Wikipedia | Level 42
Wikipedia | Standing in the Light
Level 42 | main

(credit: Level 42)


related viewing:

Freise Brothers | Based on the English author E.M. Forster’s short story of the same title, The Machine Stops is a science fiction drama that follows two inhabitants of an underground technological dystopia, deemed simply as the machine. Kuno and Vashti have conflicting opinions about the world in which they live and struggle to find hope on the very day their society comes to a sudden collapse.

This prediction of man’s oppressed yet complacent role in the midst of a technology crazed world in relentless pursuit of an undefined progress is seemingly more relevant today than when it was published in 1909.

related reading:
Freise Brothers | main
Freise Brothers | studio


related viewing:

Michael Lent | Trailer for graphic novel series by Michael Lent and Marc Rene. Adapted from the science fiction classic short story “The Machine Stops” by E.M. Forster. Published by Alterna. Released February 26, 2014 via Comixology.

related reading:
Wikipedia | Michael Lent
Alterna Comics | main


related viewing:

Benedict Flanagan | Based on the short story “The Machine Stops” by E.M. Forster from 1909. Hand drawn animation. Edited in Adobe After Effects.

related reading:
Benedict Flanagan | YouTube channel
Benedict Flanagan | main


related listening:

Sventronic | “The Machine Stops” is a musical response to the brilliant short story by E.M. Forster. Like the story, the track is in three main sections representing:

1. The Airship
2. The Mending Apparatus
3. The Homeless

Sventronic is currently working on a larger scale composition using themes from this track, look out for update.

related reading:
Sventronic | main
Sventronic | YouTube channel


related viewing:

Velvet Platypus | Adaptation of E.M. Forster’s 1909 tale, “The Machine Stops.” Shot on campus at North Lake College in Irving, Texas. Judges Choice Award and Audience Choice Award from North Lake College Video Festival in 2011.

producer: Gerson Cobaxin
director: Alex Vaughan
cinematography: Agnes Calka
co-writers: Alex Vaughan, Agnes Calka