“Inventions have long since reached their limit, and I see no hope for further developments,” said Roman engineer Julius Sextus Frontinus in 10 A.D. This end-of-progress view has been echoed many times, including by Charles Duell, commissioner for the U.S. Patent Office, who in 1899 said, “Everything that can be invented has already been invented.”
It’s worth recalling, especially in a gloomy year like the one drawing to an end, that the opposite is true: The more we invent, the more we invent. Knowledge grows on itself.
So here are the rest of my Top 10 Worst Technology Predictions, which prove that when it comes to tech, optimism pays:
“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.
“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” H.M. Warner, Warner Bros., 1927.
“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers,” Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943.
“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, 20th Century Fox, 1946.
“The world potential market for copying machines is 5,000 at most,” IBM executives to the eventual founders of Xerox, 1959.
“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home,” Ken Olsen, founder of mainframe-producer Digital Equipment Corp., 1977.
“No one will need more than 637 kb of memory for a personal computer—640K ought to be enough for anybody,” Bill Gates, Microsoft, 1981.
“Next Christmas the iPod will be dead, finished, gone, kaput,” Sir Alan Sugar, British entrepreneur, 2005.