From useless and impossible to essential and ubiquitous, skepticism often precedes technological innovation and success. Once in a while, the naysayers are right, but these 6 predictions that the most influential connected technologies of our time were never going to work are astounding in hindsight
Upon seeing the telephone for the first time in 1876, then President Rutherford B. Hayes said to inventor Alexander Graham Bell: “That’s an amazing invention, but who would ever want to use one of them?”
The first two-way long distance call occurred that same year. Less than a decade later, AT&T was formed; in 1927, the first trans-Atlantic call took place, and by the mid-20th century, 30,000,000 phone connections existed in the U.S. Our connected world was born.
“Well-informed people know it is impossible to transmit the voice over wires and that were it possible to do so, the thing would be of no practical value.” — Boston Post, 1865.
Guglielmo Marconi is known as the inventor of radio, but Nikola Tesla was first to transmit and be granted a radio patent. Radio revolutionized communication, altered the course of history in the Battle of Tsushima and World War II and was the genesis of broadcasting.
“Perhaps no invention of modern times has delivered so much while initially promising so little,” wrote Guy Gugliotta.
The New York Times reviewed a demo of television at the 1939 World’s Fair: “The problem with television is that people must sit and keep their eyes glued on a screen; the average American family hasn’t time for it.”
Reading about how TV change the world seems counterintuitive considering the medium. Instead, you can watch a documentary.
Two of the most famous predictions about computers are attributed to industry giants at the time, but history has provided more accurate context.
Ken Olson, founder of Digital Equipment Corp., is credited with saying, during a 1977 speech, “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” But according to his obituary in the Washington Post, “He later insisted that the quote was taken out of context and that he simply meant he could not envision a day when computers would run people’s lives.”
In 1943, Thomas Watson, then President of IBM allegedly said: “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” Later interpretations claim he meant five super computers, but most research debunks that he even made the statement.
While sales are on the decline, 270 million PCs were sold in 2016 alone.
“Everyone’s always asking me when Apple will come out with a cell phone. My answer is, ‘Probably never.'” — David Pogue, The New York Times, 2006
David Pogue cited himself as one of the doubters of what would soon thereafter start the mobile revolution. (Apple has sold 78 million iPhones in 4Q2016 alone.) By 2014, mobile devices outnumbered people on Earth.
image credit: GSMA Intelligence
And, while the total mobile phones sold can be quantified, the impact on society is incalculable. Beyond email, apps, social media, music, transport and commerce — everything on demand — mobile is connecting the developing world faster than would otherwise be possible. Thus, the technology is said to be a catalyst for lifting people out of poverty.
“The truth is no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.” — Clifford Stoll, Newsweek, 1995
Yes, there was a time where gaining knowledge took great effort. Now, the information we seek can be pushed out to us.
Want to know the history of the internet? Just click.
How big is the internet and what’s happening right now? These stats will blow your mind.
Predicting today’s future
IoT, artificial intelligence, driverless cars — today’s predictions of both utopia and ruin run rampant as experts try to tell the future. HERE is at the forefront of this next era, when everything physical will become digital.
We’ll not predict more than that vision from our CEO, but still relish the opportunity to discuss the possibilities with you. What’s your most burning question or conjecture about emerging technology? Check out these 6 blog posts, which ponder just that.