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The 22 worst tech predictions of all time

01 August 2019 | Facts & Curiosities

We live in an incredibly exciting time for emerging technology. In the last ten years alone, we’ve invented self-driving cars, augmented reality, reusable spacecraft, crowdfunding, genetic engineering, bionic eyes, face transplants, tablets, the large hadron collider, GPS on smartphones, real-time language translation, brain-computer interfaces and 3D-printed biological organs. Oh, and sent a robot to Mars where it discovered water and took a bunch of selfies. Not bad for a bunch of hairless monkeys clinging to a space-rock, hurtling at 67,000 miles an hour through the cold nothingness of the universe. 

So where do you think the next ten years might take us? 

You say tomato, I say genetic time bomb

Rarely is a new technology discovered that does not divide opinion on some level. For every person who believes that AI can create a utopia where benevolent machines tend to our every whim, there’s another with visions of terminators stalking the streets and enslaving mankind to power their batteries or dust their USB sockets or whatever it is that terminators truly desire. 

Quantum computing could give us the intellectual grunt to solve staggeringly complex problems like protein folding, and usher in a new and noble age of medicinal science. It could also, in the wrong hands, create a cybersecurity apocalypse where all known encryption methods become crackable in the blink of an eye, and malicious actors shut down governments and derail trains and trick UberEats into delivering them free pizza. 

Gene editing could spell an end to the misery of genetically inherited diseases, or let us engineer new super-crops that produce unlimited clean biofuel or sprout delicious cruelty-free beef burgers. It could also create great inequality, as those with wealth edit their offspring into herculean supermen with eight-pack abs and phone-number IQs, while the rest of the world… well, you’ve seen it out there. 

Jetpacks could mean the ability to jetpack away from all of our problems. That’s it, I’ve got nothing. Jetpacks are awesome. 

There’s an old saying that goes something like – “predicting the future is easy. It’s getting it right that’s the hard part”. Here’s a selection of some of the most hilariously wrong tech predictions in history to brighten your day, and remind us all that confidence is no guarantee of actual competence. There’s some pretty famous names in the list, so stay humble folks!  

Top of the Flops: The 22 Worst Tech Predictions in History

“The automobile is a fad, a novelty. Horses are here to stay.” The President of the Michigan Savings Bank advising Henry Ford’s lawyer, Horace Rackham, not to invest in the Ford Motor Company; 1903.

“Before man reaches the moon, your mail will be delivered in hours from New York to Australia by guided missiles. We stand right at the brink of an era of rocket-powered mail.” Arthur Summerfield, U.S. Postmaster General; 1959. 

“Remote shopping, while entirely feasible, will certainly flop. It has no chance of success.” Time Magazine, 1966. 

“Mobile phones will absolutely never replace the wired telephone”. Marty Cooper, inventor of the mobile phone, 1981. 

“I don’t know… there just aren’t that many videos I want to watch.”  Steve Chen, founder of YouTube, expressing doubts about YouTube’s viability as a company. 2005. 

“There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be attainable. It would mean the atom would have to be shattered at will”. Albert Einstein, 1932. 

“Television will never hold onto an audience. People will very quickly get bored of staring at a plywood box every night”. Darryl Zanuck, 20th Century Fox, 1946. 

“Fooling around with alternating current (AC) is just a waste of time. Nobody will ever use it.” Thomas Edison, famous inventor and holder of more than 1,000 patents. 1889. 

“Rail travel at great speed is not possible because passengers would be unable to breathe and would die of asphyxia.” Dr Dionysys Larder, Professor, University College London. 

“There is practically no chance satellites will ever improve telephone, television or radio reception within the United States.” T. Craven, FCC Commissioner, 1961. 

“No-one will ever need more than 637KB of memory in a computer. 640KB ought to be enough for anybody.” Bill Gates, CEO of Microsoft, 1981. 

“This ‘telephone’ has far too many shortcomings to be taken seriously as a means of communication. It has objectively no value.” William Orton, President of Western Union, 1876. 

“Where a calculator on the ENIAC computer is equipped with 18,000 vacuum tubes and weighs 30 tons, computers of the future may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes. Fanciful as it seems, they could even weight just one and a half tons.” — Popular Mechanics, 1949. 

“Why would we make this? The global potential market for copying machines is 5,000 at absolute most”. IBM, to the guys who would eventually found Xerox, 1959. 

“There is no reason an individual would ever want a computer in their home”. Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corp, 1977. 

“The idea of a personal communicator in every pocket is nothing more than a pipe-dream fuelled by greed.” Andy Grove, CEO of Intel, 1992. 

“I predict that the internet will go spectacularly supernova, and in 1996 it will catastrophically implode”. Robert Metcalf, inventor of Ethernet, 1995.

“There is no chance of the iPhone ever gaining significant market share”. Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, 2007. 

“The internet will fade away because most people have nothing to say to each other. By 2005 it will be clear that the internet’s impact on the global economy has been no greater than the fax machine.” Paul Krugman, renowned Economist, 1998. 

“Subscription models for music are bankrupt. I think you could make the Second Coming of Jesus himself available on subscription and it wouldn’t be successful.” Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, 2003. 

“Heavier than air flying machines are physically impossible”. Lord Kelvin, British Mathematician and Physicist, 1895. 

“I have no doubt that we’ll have nuclear-powered vacuum-cleaners in say, 10 years time”. Alex Lewyt, CEO of a vacuum-cleaner company, 1955. 

If this miasma of misprediction has you fearing for our future as a species, it might calm your nerves to know that it’s far from a recent phenomenon. 

Perhaps my favourite example of all comes from Socrates, firebrand Philosopher and father of Western Philosophy, who last derailed the discourse some 2,500 years ago. (No reference to Socrates is complete without mention of the fact that he was ultimately ordered to go away and drink poisonous hemlock because the people of Athens found him so annoying). 

Wise and worldly as he was, Socrates’ bugbear was books. He bemoaned the increasing popularity of the written word on the grounds that “nobody will ever talk to one another again if they spend all of their time reading”. He believed books were Ancient Greece’s equivalent to low-brow soap operas, and claimed that they dulled the mind, fooled the senses and detracted from the pursuit of knowledge. 

Not only is it deliciously ironic that we know this because it was written down in a book, it also provides you with the world’s most erudite comeback next time somebody tells you to stop looking at your phone and go read a book. You’re welcome, dear reader.

So why is all this relevant (aside from revelling in the fact that so many of history’s greatest minds were spectacularly wrong about everything)? Well, here at Hero Labs, we have a saying of our own: “There are no answers in the office”. It’s a reminder to be humble, to never simply assume we know the answer and to always bear in mind that even leading lights like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and even Albert Einstein got it wrong some of the time. That’s why we’re always prepared to tear up the rule book and never afraid to admit when we’re wrong. If anyone complains, we can just show them the list above! 

If you’d like to be on the right side of tech history, now’s a great time for you to join our mailing list and get yourself first in line for the smart home event of the year: Sonic the loveable leak detector will be coming to a sink near you in the very near future. Sign up now to get exclusive launch offers right to your inbox, and you can even score free installation if your postcode’s in the greater London area. Sonic will change the way you see water – and that’s a prediction that will stand the test of time!