For many years I was led to believe that in the 21st century, the typical family would have a flying car, use picture phones, and take vacations on the moon. Now that the 21st century has arrived, where is all that spacey stuff? On the other hand, hardly anybody saw how important computers would become, as they took us from the Industrial Age to the Information Age.
(I guess I should be glad that another prediction, the one that we'd be wearing unisex aluminum-foil leotards, didn't come true either.)
You don't have to go to National Enquirer psychics for predictions that won't come true. Many, in fact, are made by thinkers who ought to know better, like these ones:
"The invention of [war machines] has long ago been completed and I don't see anything surpassing the state of the art."--Sextus Julius Frontinus, a Roman engineer, writing about the catapult, 1 A.D.
"In my own time there have been inventions of this sort, transparent windows, tubes for diffusing warmth equally through all parts of a building, short-hand which has been carried to such a pitch of perfection that a writer can keep pace with the most rapid speaker. But the inventing of such things is drudgery for the lowest slaves; philosophy lies deeper . . ."--Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Roman poet and Stoic philosopher, first century A.D.
"Animals, which move, have limbs and muscles. The earth does not have limbs and muscles; therefore it does not move."--Scipio Chiaramonti, professor of philosophy and mathematics at the University of Pisa, arguing against the theory of Copernicus that the earth revolves around the sun.
"People give ear to an upstart astrologer who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon . . . Whoever wishes to appear clever must devise some new system, which of all systems is of course the very best. This fool wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but the sacred scripture tells us [Joshua 10:13] that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, not the earth."--Martin Luther, also criticizing Copernicus
"Just as in the microcosm there are seven 'windows' in the head (two nostrils, two eyes, two ears, and a mouth), so in the macrocosm God has placed two beneficent stars (Jupiter, Venus), two maleficent stars (Mars, Saturn), two luminaries (sun and moon), and one indifferent star (Mercury). The seven days of the week follow from these. Finally, since ancient times the alchemists had made each of the seven metals correspond to one of the planets; gold to the sun, silver to the moon, copper to Venus, quicksilver to Mercury, iron to Mars, tin to Jupiter, lead to Saturn.
From these and many other similar phenomena of nature such as the seven metals, etc., which it were tedious to enumerate, we gather that the number of planets is necessarily seven... Besides, the Jews and other ancient nations as well as modern Europeans, have adopted the division of the week into seven days, and have named them from the seven planets; now if we increase the number of planets, this whole system falls to the ground . . . Moreover, the satellites are invisible to the naked eye and therefore can have no influence on the earth, and therefore would be useless, and therefore do not exist."--Francesco Sizzi, astronomer at Florence, explaining why the four moons Galileo discovered near Jupiter cannot be real.
"It would fill the world with innumerable immoralities and give such occasion for intrigues as people can not meet with. You would have a couple of lovers make a midnight assignation upon the top of the monument and see the cupola of St. Paul's covered with both sexes like the outside of a pigeon house. Nothing would be more frequent than to see a beau flying in at a garret window or a gallant giving chase to his mistress like a hawk after a lark."--Joseph Addison, concerned about what might happen if flying machines were invented (1713)
"Men might as well project a voyage to the Moon as attempt to employ steam navigation against the stormy North Atlantic Ocean."--Dr. Dionysus Lardner (1793-1859), Professor of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy at University College, London.
"Rail travel at high speed is not possible, because passengers would die of asphyxia [suffocation]."--Dr. Dionysius Lardner (Hey, this guy was consistent!).
"Transport by railroad car would result in the emasculation of our troops and would deprive them of the option of the great marches which have played such an important role in the triumph of our armies."--Dominique Francois Arago (1786-1853)
"There is a young madman proposing to light the streets of London--with what do you suppose--with smoke!"--Sir Walter Scott, discussing a proposal to light cities with gaslights.
"The abolishment of pain in surgery is a chimera. It is absurd to go on seeking it . . . Knife and pain are two words in surgery that must forever be associated in the consciousness of the patient."--Dr. Alfred Velpeau, French surgeon (1839)
"Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try to find oil? Mister, you're crazy."--Drillers whom Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist in Texas (1859)
"We pass over the silly remarks of the President. For the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them, and that they shall be no more repeated or thought of."--an 1863 editorial in The Harrisburg Patriot & Union, giving an unfavorable review of the Gettysburg Address
"I see no good reasons why the views given in this volume should shock the religious sensibilities of anyone."--Charles Darwin, talking about The Origin Of Species (1869)
"Pasteur's theory of germs is ridiculous fiction."--Pierre Pachet, eminent professor of physiology (1872)
"The abdomen, chest and brain will be forever shut from the intrusion of the humane surgeon."--Sir John Ericksen, Queen Victoria's Surgeon-Extraordinaire (1873)
"A new source of power . . . called gasoline has been produced by a Boston engineer. Instead of burning the fuel under a boiler, it is exploded inside the cylinder of an engine.
The dangers are obvious. Stores of gasoline in the hands of people interested primarily in profit would constitute a fire and explosive hazard of the first rank. Horseless carriages propelled by gasoline might attain speeds of 14 or even 20 miles per hour. The menace to our people of vehicles of this type hurtling through our streets and along our roads and poisoning the atmosphere would call for prompt legislative action even if the military and economic implications were not so overwhelming . . . The cost of producing [gasoline] is far beyond the financial capacity of private industry . . . In addition the development of this new power may displace the use of horses, which would wreck our agriculture."--U. S. Congressional Record, 1875
"The telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device has no value to us."--Western Union internal memo (1876)
"When the Paris Exhibition closes electric light will close with it and no more be heard of."--Erasmus Wilson, Professor at Oxford University (1878, I guess nobody told Thomas Edison about this.)
"They will never try to steal the phonograph because it has no 'commercial value.'"--Thomas Edison (he later revised that opinion).
"All marriages will be happy [in the 1990s], for the law will put to death any man or woman who assumes conjugal position without the proper physical, mental and financial qualifications."--author John Haberton, 1893
"Heavier-than-air flying machines are fantasy. Simple laws of physics make them impossible."--Lord Kelvin, president, British Royal Society (1895)
"Radio has no future."--Lord Kelvin (again, 1897)
"No possible combination of known substances, known forms of machinery, and known forms of force, can be united in a practical machine by which man shall fly long distances through the air . . ."--Simon Newcomb (1835-1909), astronomer, head of the U. S. Naval Observatory
"I confess that in 1901 I said to my brother Orville that man would not fly for fifty years. Two years later we ourselves made flights. This demonstration of my impotence as a prophet gave me such a shock that ever since I have distrusted myself and avoided all predictions."--Wilbur Wright, in a speech to the Aero Club of France (1908)
"The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty--a fad."--the president of the Michigan Savings Bank, speaking to Henry Ford's lawyer, Horace Rackham. Rackham ignored the advice and invested $5000 in Ford stock, selling it later for $12.5 million.
"That the automobile has practically reached the limit of its development is suggested by the fact that during the past year no improvements of a radical nature have been introduced."--Scientific American (1909)
"Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value."--Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre (he said this in 1911, long before he became commander of the Allied armies in World War I)
"He seems to lack the basic knowledge ladled out daily in high schools."--New York Times editorial, criticizing Professor Robert Goddard's rocket experiments (1921)
"The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?"--Investors rejecting 1920s enterpreneur David Sarnoff's business plan for NBC
"While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility."--Lee DeForest, inventor of the vacuum tube (1926)
"This foolish idea of shooting at the moon is an example of the absurd length to which vicious specialization will carry scientists working in thought-tight compartments. Let us critically examine the proposal. For a projectile entirely to escape the gravitation of earth, it needs a velocity of 7 miles a second. The thermal energy of a gramme at this speed is 15,180 calories . . . The energy of our most violent explosive--nitroglycerine--is less than 1,500 calories per gramme. Consequently, even had the explosive nothing to carry, it has only one-tenth of the energy necessary to escape the earth . . . Hence the proposition appears to be basically impossible."--W. A. Bickerton, Professor of Physics and Chemistry at Canterbury College (Christchurch, New Zealand, 1926)
"Who in Hell wants to hear actors talk?"--H.M. Warner, Warner Bros. (1927)
"There is no likelihood man can ever tap the power of the atom. The glib supposition of utilizing atomic energy when our coal has run out is a completely unscientific Utopian dream, a childish bug-a-boo. Nature has introduced a few fool-proof devices into the great majority of elements that constitute the bulk of the world, and they have no energy to give up in the process of disintegration."--Robert A. Millikan, in a speech to the Chemists' Club of New York (1928)
"Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau."--Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University (1929)
"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)
"Any one who expects a source of power from the transformation of these atoms is talking moonshine . . ."--Ernest Rutherford (1933)
"I'm just glad it'll be Clark Gable who's falling on his face and not Gary Cooper."--Gary Cooper on his decision not to take the leading role in "Gone With The Wind."
"There is not in sight any source of energy that would be a fair start toward that which would be necessary to get us beyond the gravitative control of the earth."--Forest Ray Moulton, astronomer (1935)
"There will never be a bigger plane built."--A Boeing engineer, after the first flight of the 247, a twin-engine plane that holds ten people
"There has been a great deal said about a 3000 miles high angle rocket. In my opinion such a thing is impossible for many years. The people who have been writing these things that annoy me have been talking about a 3000 mile high-angle rocket shot from one continent to another, carrying an atomic bomb and so directed as to be a precise weapon which would land exactly on a certain target, such as a city.
I say, technically, I don't think anyone in the world knows how to do such a thing, and I feel confident that it will not be done for a very long period of time to come... I think we can leave that out of our thinking. I wish the American public would leave that out of their thinking."--Vanevar Bush, director of the US Office of Scientific Research and Development during World War II
"Automobiles will start to decline almost as soon as the last shot is fired in World War II. The name of Igor Sikorsky will be as well known as Henry Ford's, for his helicopter will all but replace the horseless carriage as the new means of popular transportation. Instead of a car in every garage, there will be a helicopter . . . These 'copters' will be so safe and will cost so little to produce that small models will be made for teenage youngsters. These tiny 'copters, when school lets out, will fill the sky as the bicycles of our youth filled the prewar roads."--Harry Bruno, aviation publicist, 1943.
"That is the biggest fool thing we have ever done. The bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives."--Admiral William Leahy, when President Truman asked for his opinion on the project to build an atomic bomb
"[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, head of 20th Century-Fox (1946)
"Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons."--Popular Mechanics (1949)
"There is little doubt that the most significant event affecting energy is the advent of nuclear power...a few decades hence, energy may be free--just like the unmetered air . . ."--John von Neumann, scientist and member of the Atomic Energy Commission (1955)
"Space travel is utter bilge."--Dr. Richard van der Reit Wooley, Astronomer Royal, space advisor to the British government (1956, a year before the Soviet Union launched the first satellite)
"To place a man in a multi-stage rocket and project him into the controlling gravitational field of the moon where the passengers can make scientific observations, perhaps land alive, and then return to earth--all that constitutes a wild dream worthy of Jules Verne. I am bold enough to say that such a man-made voyage will never occur regardless of all future advances.--Lee DeForest (1957)
"There is absolutely no reason that anyone would ever want a computer in their home."--Ken Olson, chairman, founder and CEO of Digital Equipment Company
"I have traveled 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."--The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall (1957)
"Guitar music is on the way out."--Decca Records, declining to record a new group called The Beatles (1962)
"Interesting, but what is it good for?"--An engineer at IBM's advanced computing division, commenting on the microprocessor (1968)
"With over 50 foreign cars already on sale here, the Japanese auto industry isn't likely to carve out a big slice of the U.S. market."--Business Week, August 2, 1968
"It will be years--not in my time--before a woman will become Prime Minister."--Margaret Thatcher (1974, five years before she got the job)
"You want to have consistent and uniform muscle development across all of your muscles? It can't be done. It's just a fact of life. You just have to accept inconsistent muscle development as an unalterable condition of weight training."--Response to Arthur Jones, who solved the "unsolvable" problem by inventing Nautilus weightlifting machines
"We went to Atari and said, 'Hey, we've built this amazing thing. Will you fund us?' and they said 'No,' so we said, 'Okay, just pay our salary and we'll give it to you,' and they said 'No.' So we went to Hewlett-Packard and they said, 'You kids aren't even out of college yet,' so then I asked Dad if we could use the garage, and he asked what I expected him to do with the Ford."--Steve Jobs, recounting Apple's early days
"640K should be enough for everyone."--Bill Gates, discussing disk drive space (1981, this one may be an urban legend)
"The concept is interesting and well-informed, but in order to earn better than a 'C' the idea must be feasible."--Yale professor's comments on a term paper submitted by Fred Smith for a reliable overnight delivery program. Two years later, Smith founded Federal Express.
"A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, market research and focus groups confirm that America wants soft, not chewy, cookies."--Investor rejection letter to Debby Fields, founder of Mrs. Fields' Cookies
"I didn't read the research paper until later. It gave insurmountable evidence that this simply could not be done."--Spencer Silver, inventor of Post-It Notepads
"I think there's a world market for maybe five computers."--Tom Watson, chairman, IBM (1943)
"The PC market--hardware, software and peripheries--may actually eclipse $1 billion annually in sales by the turn of the century."--DataQuest (1983)
"We see a corporate market of maybe 15,000 PCs a year by 1990."--DataQuest (1984) Compare the last two with this one:
"We estimate there are 15,000 PCs sold daily in the US alone and we see no end in sight for continued demand."--DataQuest (1993)
"There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance."--Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, 2007. By 2014, the iPhone grew to have a 41% market share, while Microsoft's Windows Phone was struggling to hold 3.4%.