Predictions About the Future That History Proved Way, Way Wrong
Predictions about the future lives of humanity are everywhere, from movies to news to novels. Some of them prove remarkably insightful, while others, less so. Luckily, historical records allow the people of the present to peer into the past and revisit some of the zanier predictions.
All of the following predictions have proven absolutely, irrefutably wrong. Some are laughably, ridiculously incorrect, while others seem like fantastic daydreams — possibilities that time forgot. Fortunately, there is still enough time for some of them to come true.
No Home Computers — Ken Olsen
It must be terrible to earn the honor of 'wrongest person in the history of the world,' but Ken Olson seems to hold that title currently. Though he was the founder and CEO of a technology company, it seems his faith in new and upcoming technologies was sadly limited.
Worth Its Weight in Steel? — Thomas Edison
Depending on who you talk to, Thomas Edison was either one of America's greatest inventors or one of its greatest frauds. Based on several Edison predictions that have since been proven to be unfounded and untrue, one thing is clear: for all he could brighten city streets, he couldn’t illuminate the course of the future
One Big Toe — Richard Clement Lucas
Medical history is full of crazy ideas, and predictions for the field are no exception. One surgeon, a man named Richard Clement Lucas, made a rather bizarre assertion to students and fellows during a lecture to the Royal College of Surgeons in 1911.
Movies Are a Fad — Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin is often remembered as one of the greatest silent-film actors and entertainers in the world. He also wrote and directed some of the most memorable and beloved classic films. Despite all of that, however, he had some strange ideas about 'the pictures.'
Internet Shopping Will Never Replace Malls — Clifford Stoll
Because of online retailers, fewer and fewer people are going to malls and physical retail locations to satisfy their shopping needs. This is precisely the opposite of what Clifford Stoll assured readers would happen in a 1995 article of Newsweek.
TV Will Never Last — Darryl Zanuck
The former head of Twentieth-Century Fox is infamous for making one of the all-time worst predictions in the history of humankind. in 1946, he publicly shared his doubt about the longevity of the television set. Like a know-it-all that actually knows very little, he said, "Television won't be able to hold … after the first six months."
Legs for Days — Dorothy Roe
According to 1950's newspaper editor Dorothy Roe, women in the year 2000 would resemble Wonder Woman and Xena more than Lady Gaga or Emilia Clarke. She believed that women of the future would all be six feet tall and extremely muscular.
Hose Down the House — Waldemar Kaempffert
The duties of a housewife were once manifold. In addition to keeping the house clean and tidy, housewives were expected to do the shopping, mend and wash a family's clothing, cook all of the meals and manage the family budget. It was a tough job, and it still is today.
150 Years Old — F.E. Smith
While modern medical techniques and treatments have extended the lives of millions if not billions of people, they have yet to produce an average lifespan of 150 years. This fact goes against what British politician and close friend of Winston Churchill F.E. Smith said about the matter in 1930.
The iPhone Is Temporary — Steve Ballmer
People often say that green is the color of envy. Well, Steve Ballmer — the former CEO of Microsoft — must have looked like the Wicked Witch of the West when he snatched an employee's iPhone out of their hand and pretended to stomp it into tiny little pieces.
Ape Chauffeurs — RAND Corp.
While self-driving cars continue to undergo further testing and development, there's little chance at present of making it to your destination without lifting a finger. Unless, of course, a burly ape chauffeur is driving you around.
Y2K Is the End of Everything — John Hamre
As the 1990s came to a close, a new and mysterious threat took the world by storm: Y2K. Coined by programmer David Eddy, the idea came from a misunderstanding of how easy it is to upgrade a computer's software.
Humans on Mars — Peter Schwartz and Peter Leyden
1997 was an exciting year. The domain name for Google was registered, Steve Jobs returned to Apple and the first Grand Theft Auto game hit store shelves. It was a time of hope and anticipation, and many wondered how quickly new technologies would change the world. But perhaps Wired writers Peter Schwartz and Peter Leyden were a little too optimistic.
Flying Cars — Popular Mechanics
Since the time of the Wright brothers and Henry Ford, people have dreamed of a way to escape automobile traffic and take to the skies in a personal vehicle. Who doesn’t want to trade gridlock for soaring through the clouds?.
Floating Houses — Arthur C. Clarke
Long before Pixar released Up, people wondered about the feasibility of floating real estate. Arthur C. Clark was an extraordinary science-fiction writer, and he wrote a wonderfully fictional prediction concerning floating homes.
Tooth Banks — Lester David
Dental care remains one of the most expensive forms of healthcare in the modern world. Many people only visit their dentist when absolutely necessary, which can end up costing patients far more than a few annual cleanings and check-ups.
Deep-Sea Cities — Isaac Asimov
Isaac Asimov whole-heartedly believed that the human population would reach enormous numbers by the 2000s, necessitating unlikely but crucial habitation of the freezing poles, arid deserts, and the deep, blue ocean. His idea of life in 2014 is starkly different from reality.
Fewer Letters — John Elfreth Watkins Jr.
This prediction is over a century old and still has yet to come true. Proposed in 1900 as part of the Ladies’ Home Journal, this prediction foretold three deaths. The victims? The English letters C, X, and Q. That's right — futurist John Elfreth Watkins Jr. thought that the alphabet might soon get a downgrade.
2020 Nanomobility — Michael J. O'Farrell
Have you ever heard of the Nanomobility Era? No? That's probably because it never came to pass. Michael J. O'Farrell has worked in the tech industry since 1985. He's seen the rise of personal home computers, the Internet and smartphones, but he doesn't have a great handle on possible technology timelines.
Forced Vegetarianism — Gustav Bischoff
Not every failed prediction comes from a place of hubris or insanity. Some are the product of cold, hard calculation and logic. Gustav Bischoff, the president of the American Meat Packers Association, told a New York Times reporter in 1913 that the future of meat was in the hands of the wealthy.
Miracle Pill — Francois Ody
Modern consumers are wise enough to know that any product with the word 'miracle' attached to it is probably a hunk-of-junk scam. Predicting that the entire medical profession could be made obsolete with the manufacture of so-called 'miracle pills' is about as accurate as finding out that humans really can survive on a diet of only water and air.
Phone Clothing — Ray Kurzweil
Many of futurist Ray Kurzweil's predictions have come to pass. His batting average in terms of correct and accurate assessments of the future is higher than almost any other modern-day futurist’s, but that doesn't mean he hasn't been wrong about a few things.
Therapy Bot — Ariane Van De Ven
Recent predictions can be just as wrong as ones made decades or more ago. Ariane Van de Ven, a global trends expert, made a pretty brave prediction about life in 2020 back in 2014. Her prediction was published as part of Shift 2020, a book about technology and life in the year 2020.
A Helicopter for All — Popular Mechanics
Sports coupes are so passe, right? What everyone needs is a jet-powered, two-seater personal helicopter. At least, that's what Popular Mechanics thought in its February 1951 issue. Showcasing the abilities and speed of the "Hiller Hornet," a personal aircraft that cost a whopping $5,000, the magazine claimed that such transportation would soon become common.
Nuclear-Powered Vacuum Cleaners — Alex Lewyt
A nuclear-powered vacuum cleaner sounds like something out of the Fallout universe, but according to the president of the Lewyt Vacuum Cleaner Company in 1955, "Nuclear powered vacuum cleaners will probably be a reality within 10 years." 1965 has come and gone. Where are the atomic vacuum cleaners, huh?
Internet Supernova — Robert Metcalfe
Emerging technologies tend to generate weird and wonky predictions. In 1995, Ethernet creator Robert Metcalfe made a bold prediction concerning the future of the newly prospering Internet.
Apple Would Shut Down — Michael Dell
During the mid-1990s, Steve Jobs got reamed by competitors. Everyone and their cousin was shooting their mouths off about how Jobs should shut Apple down and call it quits. Before taking the world hostage with 1997's iMac, Apple was struggling to keep pace with other companies.
No Such Thing as Heart or Brain Surgery — Sir John Eric Erichsen
Surgery is one of the oldest forms of healthcare in human history. Nonetheless, fantastically named British surgeon Sir John Eric Erichsen once suggested that in the future, "The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon."
Sunny Skies Ahead — Michael Fish
On October 15, 1987, one British forecaster allayed public concern that a great storm was approaching the British Isles. He said, "Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way. Well, if you're watching, don't worry, there isn't!" Naturally, he was wrong.
No Atomic Bombs — Admiral William Leahy
United States Admiral William Leahy was the senior-most officer in the US military during World War II. Nearly every plan of attack and every maneuver was planned by or approved by Leahy. He held some admirable beliefs concerning the use of atomic weapons — namely his prediction that US military forces would never use a nuclear bomb.