Technological advances in the 20th century changed our world dramatically. A multitude of discoveries and inventions took us from horse and buggy to automobiles and even to space travel. Communications methods made message couriers obsolete, as we moved into telephone and internet communications. And imagine our world without electricity moving from candlelight to nuclear power!
Yet despite the rapid changes in technology, it is amazing how many “experts” failed to recognize the significance of the inventions that have shaped our modern society. Below are some famous quotes from scientists, inventors, business leaders, and media organizations, that illustrate just how wrong some people “in the know” can be.
“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM, 1943
“Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.”
Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949
“But what…is it good for?”
Engineer at the Advanced Computing Division of IBM 1968, commenting on the microchip
“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”
Western Union internal memo, 1876
“The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?”
David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s
“The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible.”
A Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith’s paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service (which became FedEx)
“I don’t know what use anyone could find for a machine that would make copies of documents. It certainly couldn’t be a feasible business by itself.”
The head of IBM, refusing to back the idea, forcing the inventor to found Xerox
“Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value.”
Marechal Ferdinand Foch, a French general and military theorist, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre.
“Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.”
Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872
“640K ought to be enough for anybody.”
Bill Gates, 1981
“Man will never reach the moon regardless of all future scientific advances.”
Dr. Lee DeForest, father of radio and grandfather of television
“The bomb will never go off. I speak as an expert in explosives.”
Admiral William Leahy, US Atomic Bomb Project
“A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research reports say America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you make.”
Response to Debbi Fields’ idea of starting Mrs. Fields’ Cookies.
“The supercomputer is technologically impossible. It would take all of the water that flows over Niagara Falls to cool the heat generated by the number of vacuum tubes required.”
Professor of Electrical Engineering, New York University