Top 10 Technology Predictions That Turned Out to be False
Script written by Richard Bush. You could not be more wrong… In this video, WatchMojo.com counts down our picks for the top 10 tech predictions that turned out to be false. For this list, we’re looking at prophecies, guesses or projections that were made in the tech world, that turned out to be painfully, painfully false. We’re also taking into account who supposedly made the prediction, because if it’s someone who should’ve known better, it makes the fail that much worse. Special thanks to our users Daniel John, Vanessa Hagerty, perryhigh, Sara Jason, Nyasha Carter and Keston Cid Whyte for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page at WatchMojo.com/suggest
Top 10 Technology Predictions That Turned Out to be False
You could not be more wrong… Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 tech predictions that turned out to be false.
For this list, we’re looking at prophecies, guesses or projections that were made in the tech world, that turned out to be painfully, painfully false. We’re also taking into account who supposedly made the prediction, because if it’s someone who should’ve known better, it makes the fail that much worse.
#10: “Machine guns will make war impossible”
Whether they’re pitching a new kitchen utensil or a weapon for the military, inventors will always promote their new-fangled gadgets as the be all and end all. Take Hiram Maxim, for example. After inventing the first automatic machine gun, he was supposedly asked by British doctor and writer Havelock Ellis whether he thought his Maxim gun would make war more terrible. Maxim replied by saying machine guns would not only make war less terrible; they would make it impossible. He has unfortunately been proven false on multiple occasions.
- Hiram Maxim, inventor of Maxim gun (1893)
#9: “Television won’t last; it’s a flash in the pan”
It’s natural for people to defend their stream of income and success, and that is what BBC radio broadcaster Mary Somerville did in 1948 when she called the up-and-coming medium of television a “flash in the pan,” claiming it’d never last. By the 1950s, TV was the dominant form of telecommunication; it shaped public attitudes and has since become one of the biggest types of in-house entertainment, with an average of 44 million sold in North America each year. As opposed to radio sales, which were… significantly less.
- Mary Somerville, radio pioneer (1948)
#8: “The iPhone won’t get any significant market share”
Who knows what motivated business mogul Alan Sugar to famously say the iPod would be “dead, finished, gone, kaput” by Christmas 2005. Needless to say, he was wrong. So you’d think others would learn from his mistake, and not make such predictions when a piece of hardware like the iPhone went on sale in mid-2007. However, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said: “There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.” 51-million units sold in Q4 of 2013 sounds pretty significant to us.
- Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft (2007)
#7: “There will never be a bigger plane built”
A hunk of metal that soars through the air and across coastlines? Surely only a small aircraft can pull that off. At least, that was the conclusion a Boeing engineer came to after the first flight of the Boeing Model 247 in 1933. Touted as the first truly modern airliner, the 247 held just 10 people. Since then, aviation has evolved massively, thanks to the contributions of people like Howard Hughes. Currently, the biggest passenger airliner is the Airbus A380, which can house over 850 people.
- Boeing engineer, after 247’s first flight (1933)
#6: “Y2K will bring the end of the world”
There are plenty of people who think computers will cause the fall of humanity. But at the very least, the idea of the Millennium bug was put to rest the minute the clock struck 12:00 on January 1st, 2000. As early as the mid-‘80s, theorists and experts were suggesting that the year 2000 was judgment day – at least where machines were concerned. That’s when computers would go haywire because their systems couldn’t handle a switch from ’99 to double-zero. A much-hyped countdown to D-day followed, until the ball dropped and nothing happened.
- Various (prior to 2000)
#5: “A rocket will never leave the Earth’s atmosphere”
The idea of exploring the mysterious abyss that lay beyond planet Earth was still considered by many to be impossible, even in the early 20th century. The New York Times, even then a reputable source of news, was one publication that said point blank in 1936 that “a rocket will never leave the Earth’s atmosphere.” That was proven false just over two decades later when the Russians launched Sputnik. And then, of course, the Americans put a man on the moon in 1969, blasting that theory to bits.
- The New York Times (1936)
#4: “X-rays will prove to be a hoax”
Many things in the tech world turn out to be hoaxes; but X-rays – like the ability to conduct heart and brain surgery – weren’t one of them. At their inception, X-rays were said to be quite dangerous; but, when used correctly, quite unbelievable when it came to medical advancements. But, mathematical physicist and engineer William Thomson wasn’t convinced, and flat-out announced his belief that they were a hoax. However, shortly after, X-ray inventor Wilhelm Röntgen was able to convince The Lord Kelvin of their veracity, and the rest is history.
- William Thomson, The Lord Kelvin (c. 1896)
#3: “The automobile is only a novelty – a fad”
Okay, pilot Eddie Rickenbacker’s prediction of flying cars by 1944 was way off the mark. But, arguably a more realistic automotive prediction was made in 1883 by Ford stockholder Horace Rackham, when he refused to believe the president of the Michigan Savings Bank when he said “The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad.” Rackham bought 50 shares in the fledgling company, and ultimately became a millionaire when the Ford Motor Company became wildly successful. Talk about unsound financial advice.
- the president of the Michigan Savings Bank (1903)
#2: “640KB ought to be enough [PC memory] for anybody”
- Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft (early 1970s) Tech guru Bill Gates has never been shy to voice his opinion, but this quote takes the cake. “No one will need more than 637KB of memory for a personal computer. 640KB ought to be enough for anybody,” he allegedly said, which – considering things have expanded from kilobytes to megabytes, gigabytes and terabytes – is a huge gaffe. Thing is: Gates has repeatedly denied making the statement. Of course, Digital Equipment Corporation co-founder Ken Olsen said in 1977 that “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home,” so it coulda been worse.
Before we reveal our number one prediction fail in the technology world, here are a few honorable mentions:
- “Remote shopping, while entirely feasible, will flop – because women like to get out of the house, like to handle merchandise”
- Time Magazine (1966)
- “Rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia”
- Dionysius Lardner, scientific writer (c. 1820s)
- “As far as it is possible to do so, [The Titanic is] designed to be unsinkable”
- White Star Line promotional material (1910)
#1: “Everything that can be invented has been invented”
Imagine a world without TV, cell phones, microwaves and more. That’s the world Charles H. Duell supposedly predicted in 1899 when he said “everything that can be invented has been invented.” At the time, he was the commissioner of the U.S. patent office, so he’d know. However, like the Bill Gates quote, this one has also been declared a myth, at least when it comes to who said it. Regardless of who spoke this infamous quote, we hope it makes future skeptics think twice before making such a bold statement.
- Charles H. Duell, Commissioner of U.S. patent office (1899)
Do you agree with our list? Which technological forecasts do you think were way off the mark? For more head scratching top 10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.