10 Tech Predictions that Turned Out to Be Laughably Bad
Article by George Norman
On 19 Jul 2017
If I make a prediction and it comes true, feel free to look at me in awe and praise me for my amazing skills. But if the prediction doesn’t go like I said, feel free to mock and point at me while laughing.

Listed below are 10 tech predictions that fall in the latter category. They might have seemed believable at the time, but now they are so laughably bad that you just have to say "What. Were. They. Thinking?"

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1. "When the Paris Exhibition closes, electric light will close with it and no more will be heard of it," Erasmus Wilson, Oxford University Professor, 1878.



It’s not just electric light that soared in popularity, but the use of electricity as a whole. Could you even imagine going one day without any power? No lights in the house, no TV, no way to boot up your PC and play a video game. Sure, you could spend some time on your smartphone or tablet but… what are you going to do when the battery runs out? You’re gonna start looking for that external battery that you most likely forgot to recharge.


2. "The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad," C.T. Bridgman, President of the Michigan Savings Bank, 1903.



Anyone who’s been stuck in rush hour traffic knows that there are just too many cars on the road – more than 1 billion cars worldwide in case you were wondering, compared to about 58 million horses. Perhaps we should go back to riding horses. You won’t have to deal with traffic jams anymore, you can go off-road whenever you feel like it, and horse food has to be cheaper than gas, right?


3. "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers," Thomas Watson, President of IBM, 1943.



More than 2 billion – yes, with a B – computers have been sold so far, and that number will only keep on growing because it’s not like we’re going to stop using computers anytime soon. And let’s not forget about all the smartphones, tablets, laptops, and 2-in-1 devices that people use in their day-to-day lives to go online. In all, more than 3.68 billion people around the world use a computer or some other type of device to browse the web.

IBM went on to make yet another lousy prediction a few years later. In 1959, it told Xerox’s founders that "the world potential market for copying machines is 5,000 at most." Two years after this prediction, Xerox’s revenue was round $60 million, growing to about $500 million by 1965.


4. "We will never make a 32-bit operating system," Bill Gates, Microsoft co-founder and former CEO, 1983.



Bill Gates also said that spam would be dead in two years, back in January 2004 at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. The next prediction is denied by Bill Gates, but with so many people believing he said it, he might as well have. The story goes that back in 1981, Gates said "no one will need more than 640Kb of memory for a personal computer. 640KB ought to be enough for anybody."

Let’s agree to listen to Bill Gates when he recommends books, not when he makes tech predictions.


5. "By 2005 or so, it will become clear that the Internet’s impact on the economy has been no greater than the fax machine's," Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winning economist, 1998.



Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and plenty of other companies owe their existence to the internet. In all honesty, I don’t know that much about fax machines. I think they had one at an old job that I used to have back in my youth. I’m sure that you can still buy one if you really wanted to, just go and search for one online.


6. "In five years we're going to sit around and laugh that we even had operating system wars; there's just going to be Linux. We're going to take over," Trae McCombs, site manager for Linux.com, 1999.



I guess if you focus on the fact that Android is based on Linux, then this prediction is technically right. But if you don’t think about it like that, then this prediction is dead wrong. It’s now 2017 and Windows remains king of the desktop computer while Android is ruler supreme of the mobile market. The only devices that run exclusively on Linux are supercomputers.


7. "There’s just not that many videos I want to watch," Steve Chen, YouTube co-founder and former CTO, 2005.



In all fairness towards Steve Chen, the comment above was made at a time when YouTube hosted around 50 videos. A time when Google hadn’t spent $1.65 billion to buy the video sharing website that’s currently used by more than a 1 billion people around the world, people who watch a billion hours of video every day.


8. "Next Christmas the iPod will be dead, finished, gone, kaput," Sir Alan Sugar, English business magnate, media personality, politician and political adviser, 2005.



Apple stopped reporting iPod sales back in 2015 and by that time, the device sold more than 390 million units worldwide. Just because Apple stopped reporting the number of iPods it sold, it doesn’t mean that the device has been discontinued. Despite Sir Alan Sugar’s prediction, the iPod is still going strong, some 15 years after it initially hit the market.


9. "There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share," Steve Ballmer, former Microsoft CEO, 2007.



Ironically enough, it’s Microsoft’s who doesn’t have any significant market share in the mobile market. The Redmond giant sold off its feature phone business, buried the Lumia brand, and discontinued the Windows Phone mobile operating system earlier this month. Windows 10 Mobile OS is still around, but Microsoft doesn’t care about it enough to actually give it any meaningful new features. Rumor has it that Microsoft will put Windows Mobile in maintenance mode until its support ends in November 2018.


10. "It’s the end of the world," everyone who panicked about Y2K.



If you started stocking canned food and told all your friends about how the Millenium Bug was going to bring about the end of the world, congratulations. You have the propensity to fear the worst. And maybe you’re a little bit too gullible.


Share any prediction that made you laugh

The tech world is ripe with predictions that didn’t come true and the ones presented above are just a small sample of what tech gurus have said in the past. Are there any tech predictions that made you laugh? Feel free to share them in the comments section below.




Tags: prediction, technology, Bill Gates, Microsoft, Steve Ballmer, Google, YouTube, Apple,
About the author: George Norman
George is a news editor.
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