Back when touchscreens first out, I constantly overheard my friends complaining about them; saying how annoying, unreliable, and frustrating they were. Some even swore they would never buy a phone with a touchscreen again. Seven years later, smartphones have mostly replaced the dumb ones, and I couldn’t pay any of those friends to go back to a flip phone (do they even sell those anymore?). My friends’ reluctance to embrace new technology is a classic example of short-sightedness. When a normal person puts their foot in their mouth, they can look back and laugh about it later. When someone who should know better makes a stupid prediction and demonstrates an extreme lack of foresight, the whole world can look back and laugh at them later.
1. “Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.”
Popular Mechanics, 1949
Perhaps they thought it was a bold prediction at the time, but their imagination fell a little short. Today my Samsung Galaxy S4 weighs 133 grams, and the iPhone 5 weighs 112 grams.
2. “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”
Ken Olson, president, chairman, and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977
I’m glad somebody else saw the potential in personal computers, because they have completely changed the world. In 2012, 78% of Americans have computers in their homes, and 2,405,518,376 people worldwide use the internet as of 2014.
3. “I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face and not Gary Cooper.”
Gary Cooper on not taking the leading role in Gone With The Wind.
Talking about yourself in the third person is never a good idea (just ask Gwyneth Paltrow), and neither was bragging about not getting the leading role in the extremely commercially and critically successful Gone With The Wind. The film won eight Academy Awards and has made $390 million over the years since it was released. When adjusted for inflation, it has made $3.3 billion, far more than any other film in history.
4. “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.”
Decca Records rejecting the Beatles, 1962.
Decca Records, in what is probably the most colossal mistake in music history, chose to sign Brian Poole and the Tremoloes, which you have probably never heard of, instead of The Beatles, which everyone in the entire world has heard of. Brian Poole and the Tremoloes went on to have zero number one hits in the US and two in the UK, while The Beatles had twenty-seven in the US and UK and are considered one of the greatest bands of all time.
5. “The bomb will never go off. I speak as an expert in explosives.”
Admiral William Leahy, US Atomic Bomb Project
It seems that Admiral Leahy, the presidential adviser on the atomic bomb, was not the expert he imagined himself to be. In his favor, he did argue against the use of the bomb once it was successfully tested, calling it “barbarous” and saying that “wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.”
6. “Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.”
Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, Oct. 17, 1929.
Poor Irving. A few days after this bold prediction that pretty much summed up the collectively pompous, overconfident attitude of the 20s, the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. Irving Fisher still refused to accept the obvious, continuing for months to assure investors that things would bounce back and that their stocks were safe. Perhaps he was in denial because his own firm went under and he lost most of his personal wealth. His slowness to catch on cost him what was left of his tattered reputation.
7. “Cellular phones will absolutely not replace local wire systems.”
Marty Cooper, inventor (1981)
Sometimes the inventors are more dismissive of their creations than the rest of the world. Thirty years later, over 34% of Americans only have cell phones, and only 8% have a landline and no cell phone.
8. “Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value.”
Marechal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre
Foch made this statement in 1904. Airplanes first came into military use in 1914 when World War I started, played a huge role in World War II, and have since become the most important part of any military.
9. “Within the next two decades autos will be made with folding wings.”
Eddie Rickenbacker, pilot (1924)
You can’t fault this guy for his ambition. At least he had imagination, the lack of which was a problem for many of the people on this list. While there are technically “flying cars” today, such as Terrafugia’s Transition or planned TF-X, they are about as far from a practical means everyday of travel as blimps.
10. “While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility.”
Lee DeForest, inventor.
This is another case of the inventor underestimating his own invention. DeForest would be proud of his creation, because as of 2009, 78% of all the households in the world own a television and 48 million are sold every year.
The lesson to be learned from these over-confident people is that you should always be open-minded, never assume that you know everything about anything, and maybe think things through before you make bold predictions about the future in public. In conclusion, to quote Albert Einstein: “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”