8 Spectacularly Wrong Predictions About Computers & The Internet

wrong computer predictionsPredictions are a risky business. Even more so if they are about the immediate future. Once shown to be wrong, the words return to their origin like a boomerang and the quotes will forever haunt the speaker.

Over the past century, technology has advanced at a pace that almost makes Gene Roddenberry and other ‘futurists’ look like prophets. However, they were dreamers and many of those that made serious forecasts lacked both imagination and foresight. In this article I will review 8 famous predictions about computers and the Internet that, in hindsight, proved to be incredibly wrong.

1. Popular Mechanics, 1949

Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.

– Popular Mechanics, 1949

The first general-purpose electronic computer, the ENIAC, was completed in 1947 and weighed almost 30 tons. [Source: Wikipedia] The prediction is actually correct, but maybe a tiny little bit too conservative.

2. Editor of Prentice Hall business books, 1957

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 of Prentice Hall business books, 1957

The Editor had turned down a manuscript discussing the science behind data processing and the above was his explanatory statement. The New York Times comments: “Fads have a way of sticking around long after those who call them that are gone.” [Source: The New York Times]

3. Ken Olsen, 1977

There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.

– Ken Olsen, 1977

Ken Olsen was the president, chairman, and founder of Digital Equipment Corporation. Besides mainframe systems, the company also developed minicomputers for science and engineering. Olsen, who himself had a personal computer at home, could not imagine that one day computers could be used to run the house, i.e. control doors, windows, and other electronics. [Source: Wikipedia] While this is not yet a reality for everyone, the technology has been around for a couple of years now.

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4. Bill Gates, 1989

We will never make a 32-bit operating system.

– Bill Gates, 1989

No one knows why Bill Gates felt compelled to make such a statement, given the fact that an advance from 8-bit to 16-bit had just been made, and subsequent developments were only logical. Subsequently, ‘never’ must have come and gone as the 32-bit Windows NT 3.1 was launched only four years later, in 1993.

wrong computer predictions

5. Bill Gates, 1987

I believe OS/2 is destined to be the most important operating system, and possibly program, of all time.

– Bill Gates, 1987

This quote originated from a foreword written by Bill Gates for the OS/2 Programmer’s Guide. OS/2 is an operating system created by IBM and Microsoft. It was later developed by IBM alone and supported until 2006. [Source: Wikipedia] Although it allegedly ran Windows programs better than Windows itself, calling OS/2 the most important program of all time certainly was a gross exaggeration.

6. John Allen, 1993

One would think that if you’re anonymous, you’d do anything you want, but groups have their own sense of community and what we can do.

– John Allen, 1993

7. Bill Gates, 2004

Spam will be a thing of the past in two years’ time.

– Bill Gates, 2004

Bill Gates made this statement at the World Economic Forum in Davos. The technology he suggested was the electronic equivalent of a stamp, payable only when an email is rejected. At the same event he also announced that Microsoft’s search technology would soon outpace Google. [Source: BBC] Soonish 7 years later and we’re still waiting for any of that to happen.

8. Sir Alan Sugar, 2005

Next Christmas the iPod will be dead, finished, gone, kaput.

– Sir Alan Sugar, 2005

Sir Alan Sugar is the founder of the electronics company Amstrad. Over the years he has also become a celebrity in the United Kingdom and he is a member of the House Of Lords. Apparently, he should not be consulted when it comes to the evaluation of the potential of modern day electronics. [Source: Wikipedia]

There are two very famous quotes that are actually urban myths and hence did not make the list above. Thomas J. Watson, former president of IBM, is often quoted for having said “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” The truth is that there is no record of Watson ever making this statement. However, the quote was traced back to a British professor, who said something slightly similar. [Source: Wikipedia]

Bill Gates is often mocked for supposedly saying “640KB ought to be enough for anybody.” Mr. Gates himself denies having said something so utterly stupid and until sufficient proof is provided, we have to believe him. [Source: Wikipedia]

Current Prediction

The most likely way for the world to be destroyed, most experts agree, is by accident. That’s where we come in; we’re computer professionals. We cause accidents.

– Nathaniel Borenstein, co-creator of MIME

Let’s not let that last prediction come true!

If you liked this one, you should also check out 55 Geeky One Line Jokes and The History of Operating Systems.

What is your favorite computer or internet quote?

Image credit: Gunnar Pippel

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