For all our scientific progress, humans have a dismal record of predicting the future. There is not a scintilla of evidence for supernatural prognostication, despite people believing in so-called psychics like Sylvia Browne (a proven fraud). Of course, the scientists and skeptics that expose psychic charlatans are no better at making predictions than phony seers are – yet they continue trying.
When a bespectacled fellow in a lab coat speaks, many of us lower our intellectual guard. Scientists are intelligent – the moon landing! the paleo diet! the iMac! – so we may listen even when they hold forth on subjects beyond their expertise. There are no experts at predicting the future, which these five embarrassingly wrong tech predictions prove quite conclusively.
1. “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” Ken Olson founded Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC), one of the first manufacturers of mainframe computers for government and industry. Asked about the home-use potential of the PC in 1977, when Apple and others already had minicomputers on the market, Olson may have shown a lack of imagination, but he had a lot of company.
2. “We will never make a 32-bit operating system.”Bill Gates said this in 1983 at the launch of MSX, a computing architecture that was going to take the world by storm. It didn’t. On the other hand, the latest three OS packages from Microsoft – Vista, Windows 7 and the upcoming Windows 8 – have both 32- and 64-bit versions, which are installed on a wide range of PC desktop computer rental units.
3. “There is practically no chance [that] space satellites will be used to provide better [communications] inside the United States.” In 1961, the FCC Commissioner – appropriately named T. Craven – announced this conclusion of an in-depth government study. Today, whether people buy tablets or rent laptops, they can connect to the world wirelessly because commercial communications satellites began blasting into orbit in 1965.
4. “There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable.”Albert Einstein gave this gloomy prediction about nuclear power in 1932. As part of the Manhattan Project that built the atomic bomb, Einstein worked with ENIAC, the first “real” computer, which was less powerful than a 1980s-vintage Casio DataBank watch. A MacBook Pro rental would have seemed like alien technology to ol’ Albert.
5. “Nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners will probably be a reality in 10 years.”Alex Lewyt, a vacuum cleaner manufacturer, was thus quoted in a New York Times article in 1955. The early years of the Atomic Age were exciting (and scary). Today, render farm rentals from CRE comprise technological components so powerful and advanced that Mr. Lewyt just might have thought them nuclear-powered.