The 7 worst tech predictions of all time

Predicting the future ain't easy.

Predicting the future ain't easy. That's why astrologers and fortune tellers tend to keep their forecasts as vague as possible. But in the high-stakes world of high technology, the future belongs to those who see it coming well in advance.

Of course, even the most successful tech prognosticators make their share of foolish predictions, multiplying the candidates for inclusion in this article. In any case, here are a few of my favorite forward-looking flubs of the past 65 years.

Foolish Tech Prediction 1

"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."

Thomas Watson, president of IBM, 1943

At the dawn of the computer industry, nobody really knew where this new technology would take us. But the explosion of desktop computing that put a PC in nearly every American home within 50 years seems to have eluded the imagination of most mid-century futurists.

After all, when IBM's Thomas Watson said "computer," he meant "vacuum-tube-powered adding machine that's as big as a house." It's fair to say that few people ever wanted one of those, regardless of the size of their desk.

Foolish Tech Prediction 2

"Television won't be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night."

Darryl Zanuck, executive at 20th Century Fox, 1946

By 1946, movie executive Darryl Zanuck had already cemented his place in entertainment history as the producer of more than 100 films for the big silver screen. So who could have blamed him for underestimating the power of the small blue screen? I'm guessing that if Zanuck were alive today, he'd find himself just as mesmerized as the rest of us by the mind-crushing distortion loop that modern TV programming has become.

Foolish Tech Prediction 3

"Nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners will probably be a reality within ten years."

Alex Lewyt, president of Lewyt vacuum company, 1955

In the 1950s, the only thing more certain than the red menace was the inevitability of atomic power. So when New Jersey-based vacuum cleaner honcho Alex Lewyt heralded a tomorrow in which nuclear-powered appliances would suck up dirt in every American household, the news probably caused few eyebrows to rise. Remember, this was the era of radium-impregnated paint for glow-in-the-dark dials. Peaceful radioactivity seemed as safe as asbestos.

Of course, Lewyt's vision has yet to come true, and it likely won't until well after nuclear reactors are enlisted to power all of the terminator robots in our post-SkyNet future.

(Interested in robots? Take a look at "The Robots of 2008" for a video appreciation of the coolest and most innovative of Gort's great-great-grandchildren.)

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Robert Strohmeyer

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?