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Incorrect predictions

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Sometimes, someone says something that turns out to be an incorrect prediction. In hindsight, however, the people who said these things may have had good reasons for thinking they were right.



Space travelEdit

  • After the rocket quits our air and really starts on its longer journey, its flight would be neither accelerated nor maintained by the explosion of the charges it then might have left.[1]
    • The New York Times, January 13, 1920. The Times offered a retraction on July 17, 1969, as Apollo 11 was on its way to the moon.[2]
  • To place a man in a multi-stage rocket and project him into the controlling gravitational field of the moon where the passengers can make scientific observations, perhaps land alive, and then return to earth—all that constitutes a wild dream worthy of Jules Verne. I am bold enough to say that such a man-made voyage will never occur regardless of all future advances.

Transportation technologyEdit

  • What can be more palpably absurd than the prospect held out of locomotives traveling twice as fast as stagecoaches?
    • The Quarterly Review, March, 1825.
  • Hence, if it requires, say, a thousand years to fit for easy flight a bird which started with rudimentary wings, or ten thousand for one which started with no wings at all and had to sprout them ab initio, it might be assumed that the flying machine which will really fly might be evolved by the combined and continuous efforts of mathematicians and mechanicians in from one million to ten million years--provided, of course, we can meanwhile eliminate such little drawbacks and embarrassments as the existing relation between weight and strength in inorganic materials. [Emphasis added.]
    • The New York Times, Oct 9, 1903, p. 6.
  • That the automobile has practically reached the limit of its development is suggested by the fact that during the past year no improvements of a radical nature have been introduced.


  • There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.
  • There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.
    • Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), in a talk given to a 1977 World Future Society meeting in Boston. This is widely quoted but Olsen claims it is taken out of context, that he was not referring to personal computers but to a household computer that would control the home.
      Reference: "Ken Olsen", Snopes, includes bibliography.
  • But the real future of the laptop computer will remain in the specialized niche markets. Because no matter how inexpensive the machines become, and no matter how sophisticated their software, I still can't imagine the average user taking one along when going fishing.


  • The settlement of the Czechoslovakian problem, which has now been achieved is, in my view, only the prelude to a larger settlement in which all Europe may find peace. This morning I had another talk with the German Chancellor, Herr Hitler, and here is the paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine. Some of you, perhaps, have already heard what it contains but I would just like to read it to you: " ... We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again ... My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep".
  • Plowboy: In your opinion, what are mankind's prospects for the near future?
Asimov: To tell the truth, I don't think the odds are very good that we can solve our immediate problems. I think the chances that civilization will survive more than another 30 years—that it will still be flourishing in 2010—are less than 50 percent.
Plowboy: What sort of disaster do you foresee?
Asimov: I imagine that as population continues to increase—and as the available resources decrease—there will be less energy and food, so we'll all enter a stage of scrounging. The average person's only concerns will be where he or she can get the next meal, the next cigarette, the next means of transportation. In such a universal scramble, the Earth will be just plain desolated, because everyone will be striving merely to survive regardless of the cost to the environment. Put it this way: If I have to choose between saving myself and saving a tree, I'm going to choose me.
Terrorism will also become a way of life in a world marked by severe shortages. Finally, some government will be bound to decide that the only way to get what its people need is to destroy another nation and take its goods ... by pushing the nuclear button.
And this absolute chaos is going to develop—even if nobody wants nuclear war and even if everybody sincerely wants peace and social justice—if the number of mouths to feed continues to grow. Nothing will be able to stand up against the pressure of the whole of humankind simply trying to stay alive!
  • With over fifteen types of foreign cars already on sale here, the Japanese auto industry isn't likely to carve out a big share of the market for itself.
  • Well-informed people know that it is impossible to transmit the human voice over wires as may be done with dots and dashes of Morse code, and that, were it possible to do so, the thing would be of no practical value.
    • Unidentified Boston newspaper, 1865.
    • Quoted in Jehl, Francis (1936). Menlo Park Reminiscences (1st edition ed.). Dearborn, Michigan: Edison Institute. pp. unidentified page (of 430). 
    • Re-quoted in Gregory, Richard Langton (1994). "What Use Is a Jelly Baby?". Even Odder Perceptions. Routledge. pp. p. 18. ISBN 0415061067. 
  • Every attempt to refer chemical questions to mathematical doctrines must be considered, now and always, profoundly irrational, as being contrary to the nature of the phenomena. . . . but if the employment of mathematical analysis should ever become so preponderant in chemistry (an aberration which is happily almost impossible) it would occasion vast and rapid retrogradation....
  • Democracy will be dead by 1950.
    • John Langdon-Davies, A Short History of The Future, 1936.
  • The coming of the wireless era will make war impossible, because it will make war ridiculous.
    • Guglielmo Marconi, pioneer of radio, Technical World Magazine, October, 1912, page 145.
  • The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote. Nevertheless, it has been found that there are apparent exceptions to most of these laws, and this is particularly true when the observations are pushed to a limit, i.e., whenever the circumstances of experiment are such that extreme cases can be examined. Such examination almost surely leads, not to the overthrow of the law, but to the discovery of other facts and laws whose action produces the apparent exceptions.
    • Albert Abraham Michelson, Light waves and their uses, University of Chicago Press, 1903. The first sentence is often quoted out of context, completely misrepresenting his intent.
  • No "scientific bad boy" ever will be able to blow up the world by releasing atomic energy.
  • I do not myself think that any civilized nation will torpedo unarmed and defenceless merchant ships.


  • There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now; All that remains is more and more precise measurement.
  • 640 K ought to be enough for anybody.
    • Variation: No one will need more than 640 kilobytes of memory for a personal computer.
    • Attributed to Bill Gates, 1981.
    • Gates has denied saying either variation, and no verifiable source is known.


  • Everything that can be invented has been invented.
    • Charles H. Duell, Comissioner of the US Patent Office, 1899.
    • Although most commonly attributed to him, (it has also been attributed to anonymous US Patent Office employees of varying dates, as well as British ones), there is no evidence that Duell ever held this opinion, let alone stated it. [1]
  • I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.
    • Thomas J. Watson, chairman of IBM, on seeing the first mainframe computer in 1943.
    • There is no evidence that Watson ever said this. See his Wikipedia article for more information.

See alsoEdit

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