Everyone has said something which they wish they hadn’t, usually quite soon after the unfortunate incident. Sometimes hindsight is required, but that is a very rare commodity, and therefore priceless. On the other hand, some predictions or opinions need a little time for the error to become apparent, but they can also be spoken by people who one would expect to have a little more foresight, particularly when they are directly involved in, for example, the development of technology and appliances associated with it.
Conversely, some predictions have been the source of humour at the time they were made, usually because what was proposed was so far ahead of its time. However, they actually came to pass, to be true – in the following list, these are not difficult to identify.
Following, in chronological order, are a range of just such epithets, the incorrect ones made by people who really should have known better, the correct ones by people who did know better! Many are clearly amusing, considering future developments.
“The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.”
Sir William Henry Preece (1834 -1913), Chief Engineer to the British Post Office.
“Fooling around with alternating current (AC) is just a waste of time. Nobody will use it, ever.”
Thomas Alva Edison, American inventor and entrepreneur, 1889.
“Flight by machines heavier than air is impractical and insignificant, if not utterly impossible.”
Simon Newcomb, mathematician and astronomer, c. 1902.
“When wireless is perfectly applied the whole earth will be converted into a huge brain. We shall be able to communicate with one another instantly, irrespective of distance. Not only this, but through television and telephony we shall see and hear one another as perfectly as though we were face to face, despite intervening distances of thousands of miles; and the instruments through which we shall be able to do this will be amazingly simple compared with our present telephone. A man will be able to carry one in his vest pocket.”
Nikola Tesla, inventor, futurist and engineer, c. 1926.
“Talking films are a very interesting invention, but I do not believe they will remain long in fashion.”
Louis-Jean Lumière, inventor of the cinematograph, in 1929.
“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
Thomas J. Watson, chairman and CEO of IBM, c. 1943 (possibly apocryphal.)
“Television won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.”
Darryl F. Zanuck, film producer, 1946.
“Before man reaches the moon, your mail will be delivered within hours from New York to Australia by guided missiles. We stand on the threshold of rocket mail.”
Arthur Ellsworth Summerfield, 54th Postmaster General of the United States, c. 1959.
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
Alvin Toffler, writer and futurist, in “Future Shock” (1970).
“Cellular phones will absolutely not replace local wire systems.”
Martin Cooper, engineer and pioneer of wireless communications, 1981.
“I predict the Internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.”
Robert Metcalfe, co-inventor of Ethernet, 1995.
“By 2005 or so, it will become clear that the Internet’s impact on the economy has been no greater than the fax machine’s.”
Paul Krugman, economist, 1998.
“Computers can recognize their owner’s face from a picture or video.”
Ray Kurzweil, author and futurist, from “The Age of Spiritual Machines” (1999).
“There’s just not that many videos I want to watch.”
Steve Chen, co-founder of YouTube, 2005.
“Everyone’s always asking me when Apple will come out with a cell phone. My answer is, ‘Probably never.’”
David Pogue, technology writer for “The New York Times,” in 2006.