There are only two types of prediction – good ones and bad ones. The good ones show great wisdom and insight, the bad ones, well, they just get forgotten…don’t they?
Be careful in what you say. Be careful in what words you use for they may come back and haunt you. Worse still they may outlive you, carved, as if in stone, in the collective memory of humankind for all eternity.
Here then is a collection of historical gaffes; a collection of statements and predictions made by people who, given their position, and with the benefit of that wonderful thing called ‘hindsight’, really should have known better…
“Inventions have long since reached their limit, and I see no hope for further developments.”
Julius Sextus Frontinus, Roman Engineer, AD 10.
“Radio has no future. Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible. X-rays will prove to be a hoax.”
William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, British physicist, 1899.
“Rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers, unable to breath, would die of asphyxia.”
Dionysius Lardner, British scientist, 1823.
“This ‘telephone’ has too many short comings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. This device is inherently of no value to us.”
Internal memo, Western Union, 1876.
“That’s an amazing invention, but who would ever want to use one of them?”
President Rutherford B. Hayes to Alexander Graham Bell, 1876.
“The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?”
Associates of David Sarnoff in response to his call for investment in radio, 1920’s.
“I have anticipated [radio’s] complete disappearance confident that the unfortunate people, who must now subdue themselves to ‘listening-in’ will soon find a better pastime for their leisure.”
H.G. Wells, The Way the World is Going, 1925.
“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”
H.M. Warner, Warner Bros, 1927.
“While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility.”
Lee DeForest, Radio pioneer.
“The problem with television is that the people must sit and keep their eyes glued on a screen; the average American family hasn’t time for it.”
The New York Times, after a prototype demonstration at the 1939 World’s Fair.
“Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.”
Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology, Toulouse, 1872.
“However fascinating it may be as a scholarly achievement, there is virtually nothing that has come from molecular biology that can be of any value to human living.”
Frank MacFarlane Burnet, Nobel Prize winning immunologist (1899-1985).
“There will be no epidemics. There will be no incurable diseases.”
Norman Bel Geddes, Ten Years from Now, 1931.
“The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon.”
John Eric Ericksen, Surgeon Extraordinary to Queen Victoria, 1873.
“Teeth will disappear in about 75 years from now, because the food of the future will be concentrated and made directly from chemicals so that there will be no strain on the digestion, or gums.”
Editor, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1900.
“We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.”
Winston Churchill, “Fifty Years Hence” in Popular Mechanics, 1930.
“I see no good reasons why the views given in this volume should shock the religious sensibilities of anyone.”
Charles Darwin, The Origin of the Species, 1869.
“Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.”
Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929.
“1930 will be a splendid employment year.”
U.S. Department of Labor, 1929.
“Law will be simplified [over the next 100 years]. Lawyers will have diminished, and their fees will have been vastly curtailed.”
Junius Henri Browne, Journalist, 1893.
“Man will never reach the moon, regardless of all future scientific advances.”
Lee DeForest, Radio Pioneer, 1957.
“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 Summerfield, U.S. Postmaster General, 1959.
“Nuclear powered vacuum cleaners will probably be a reality within 10 years.”
Alex Lewyt, President, Lewyt Vacuum Cleaner Co, 1955.
“There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will.”
Albert Einstein, 1932.
“It doesn’t matter what he does, he will never amount to anything.”
Albert Einstein’s teacher, 1895.
“The bomb will never go off. I speak as an expert in explosives.”
Admiral William Leahy, U.S. Atomic Bomb Project.
“Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value.”
Marechal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre.
“There will never be a bigger plane built.”
A Boeing engineer, after the first flight of the 247, a twin engine plane holding ten people.
“Houses will be able to fly [by the year 2000] The time may come when whole communities may migrate south in the winter, or move to new lands whenever they feel the need for a change of scenery.”
Arthur C. Clarke, Vogue, 1966.
“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
Thomas Watson, Chairman IBM, 1943.
“It would appear we have reached the limits of what it is possible to achieve with computer technology, although one should be careful with such statements; they tend to sound pretty silly in five years.”
John von Neumann, computer scientist, 1949.
“I have travelled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year.”
Editor of Business Books, Prentice Hall, 1957.
“Despite the trends to compactness and lower costs, it is unlikely everyone will have their own computer any time soon.”
Stanley Penn, The Wall Street Journal, 1966.
“But what is [the microchip] good for?”
Engineer, Advanced Computing Systems Division, IBM, 1968.
“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”
Ken Olsen, Founder, Digital Equipment Corp, 1977.
“I predict the internet will go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.”
Bob Metcalfe, InfoWorld, 1995.
Russell Gilbert, Managing Editor, EUROGRADUATE The European Graduate Career Guide.