Monday, November 19, 2007

Famously bad predictions

Laura Lee in the Sept/Oct 2000 issue of Futurist recounted some fabulously bad predictions:

"Law will be simplified [over the next century]. Lawyers will have diminished, and their fees will have been vastly curtailed." Journalist Junius Henri Browne, 1893.

"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 under Eisenhower in 1959.

"The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a 'C,' the idea must be feasible." A Yale University management professor in response to student Fred Smith's paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. Smith went on to found Federal Express.

"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." Nobel Prize-winning immunologist Frank MacFarlane Burnet (1899-1985).

"Inventions have long since reached their limit, and I see no hope for further developments." Roman engineer Julius Sextus Frontinus, A.D. 10.

"That's an amazing invention, but who would ever want to use one of them?" President Rutherford B. Hayes to Alexander Graham Bell, 1876.

"It doesn't matter what he does, he will never amount to anything." Albert Einstein's teacher to his father, 1895.

"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.

"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 television was demonstrated at the 1939 World's Fair.

"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." Computer scientist John von Neumann, 1949.

"Man will never reach the moon, regardless of all future scientific advances." Radio pioneer Lee De Forest, 1957.

IPBiz has not verified the accuracy of these quotes. Separately, IPBiz has heard a different variant of one quote:

"I had the idea of a new kind of pen that used a ball instead of a nib. But I decided it wouldn't work, so I dropped the project." Chester Carlson (1906-1968), inventor of the Xerox copier.

IPBiz heard that Carlson dropped the idea of a ball point pen because he found prior art in the patent literature, not because he thought it would not work.


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