Future imperfect

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Throughout history people have been predicting what the future might hold. And they’ve often been proven hilariously wrong
Recently I fell victim to a hoax on the internet. On 27 June 2012 social media was abuzz with a photo of Marty McFly’s dashboard showing that this was the date he and Doc were travelling to in their souped-up Delorean time machine in the 1985 film ‘Back to the Future’. However, the still from the film had been photoshopped because the real date is actually 21 October 2015.

Although 2015 is still three years off, it got me thinking about the future. Would Marty McFly have predicted the technologies we use today? For instance, carrying a portable telephone the size of a pack of cards around wherever you go — swiping the screen instead of punching keys, typing messages, taking photographs, listening to music and having video chats.

Technology and innovation seem to move at such a rapid pace. Things that were inconceivable just a short time ago, have come to be… and then some. That famous Henry Ford quote springs to mind: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” In his day, horses were probably quicker than the early cars but today I’d like to see a horse try keep up with a Bugatti Veyron Super Sport.

I then had a little look on the internet to see what predictions have been made about the future and came across a great list on listserve.com entitled ‘Top 30 failed technology predictions’. Some of them actually made me laugh out loud. Here are a few of my favourites.

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home” — Ken Olson, president and founder of Digital Equipment Corp, a major American company in the computer industry, arguing against the PC in 1977. How very, very wrong he was. We don’t just have one computer per household, we have two or three depending on the occupants.

Technology advances so quickly that anything seems possible


And actually, most of us carry a computer in our pockets and handbags because a smart phone is technically a mini computer. That predication was just 35 years ago. Not that long when you think about it.

Followed on from that is Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, declaring in 1989 that “We will never make a 32-bit operating system”. That prediction was short-lived as the 32-bit Windows NT 3.1 was launched only four years later, in 1993.

I really love the following prediction because the mental image is very funny. “The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.” — Sir William Preece, chief engineer at the British Post Office, 1878. Can you imagine all these ‘messenger boys’ today running around delivering our phone calls and text messages. The streets would be mayhem.

I have to chuckle at this next one when you think of the accessibility of internet radio today and also the ability to download radio programmes in the form of podcasts. “The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to no one in particular?” — Associates of David Sarnoff responding to the latter’s call for investment in the radio in 1921.

“Nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners will probably be a reality in ten years.” — Alex Lewyt, president of vacuum cleaner company Lewyt Corp, in the New York Times in 1955. A tad over optimistic perhaps. But he may have got himself out of that one with the word “probably”.

So, what crazy predictions are people hatching up these days? Technology advances so quickly that anything seems possible. Apple recently launched its new MacBook with retina display but how soon until we have a computer actually built into our retinas? Or is that just another bad prediction?

Tanya Weaver shares some of her favourite failed technology predictions

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