Monday, December 19, 2011

(In)Famous Last Words

There are two ways to look at the list below of famous quotations predicting the future that turned out to be completely wrong. One way is that since many of these are technology related that technology marches forward in ways that few can comprehend, meaning that a technological fix may be found for the intractable and soon to be calamitous problems of peak oil, resource depletion, climate change and overpopulation. Obviously, I don't subscribe to that notion. Technology has been able to march forward BECAUSE the cheap energy was there to allow it to do so. Take away the cheap energy and it only makes sense that technological progress will grind to a halt.

Instead, I prefer to look at these predictions this way: that the future is unknowable beyond the realm of the educated guess, and anyone who claims a certainty about exactly how the next few decades are going to unfold given the challenges I just mentioned should not be taken seriously. It's been a long, strange trip already since the Long Emergency got underway in earnest back in 2008, and it's likely to get a lot stranger before it's all over.

"Man will never reach the moon, regardless of all future scientific advances."
- Dr. Lee DeForest, "Father of Radio & Grandfather of Television."

"The bomb will never go off. I speak as an expert in explosives."
- Admiral William Leahy , US Atomic Bomb Project

"In the future, computers may weigh no more than 1.5 tons."
- Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949

"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."
- Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

"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."
- Editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957

"There is no likelihood man can ever tap the power of the atom."
- Robert Millikan, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1923

"640K ought to be fast enough for anybody."
- Bill Gates, 1981

This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us."
- Western Union internal memo, 1876.

"The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?"
- David Sarnoff's associate in response to his urgings for investment in the radio, 1920.

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

"We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out."
- Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962.

"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."

"A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research reports say America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you make."
- Response to Debbi Fields' idea of starting Mrs. Fields' Cookies.

"If I had thought about it, I wouldn't have done the experiment. The literature was full of examples that said you can't do this."
- Spencer Silver on the work that led to the unique adhesives for 3-M "Post-It" Notepads.

"Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You're crazy."
- Driller who Edwin Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil in 1859.

"Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau."
- Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929.

"But what is it good for?"
- Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip.

"Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value."
- Marechal Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre, France .

"The super computer is technologically impossible. It would take all of the water that flows over Niagara Falls to cool the heat generated by the number of vacuum tubes required."
- Professor of Electrical Engineering, New York University

"Everything that can be invented has been invented."
- Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, US Office of Patents, 1899.

"Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible."
- Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895.

"I don't know what use anyone could find for a machine that makes copies of documents. It certainly couldn't be a feasible business by itself."
- Head of IBM, refusing to back the idea, forcing the inventor to found Xerox.

"The abdomen, the chest and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon."
- Sir John Eric Erickson, Surgeon-Extraordinary to Queen Victoria, 1873.

"Louis Pasteur's theory of germs is ridiculous fiction."
- Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872

And last but not least...

"There is simply no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."
- Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977

Bonus: one such quote they left out that I always loved was Who drummer Keith Moon saying to guitarist Jimmy Page back in 1968: "Your new (as yet unnamed) band is going to go over like a lead zeppelin."

1 comment:

  1. All very funny but wait just a goddam minute. Michelle invented post-its!