21 dumbest-ever tech predictions

Second-guessing the future is never a good idea, as pundits from Bill Gates to Sir Alan Sugar prove

Apple iPod family 2007

"They couldn't hit an elephant from that distance." So said Major General John Sedgewick in 1864 just before being hit by the bullet from a Confederate sharpshooter.

He's not alone in making bad predictions, the history of the tech industry is littered with them. Here are 21 of the worst:


1. "Well informed people know it is impossible to transmit the voice over wires and that were it possible to do so, the thing would be of no practical value." -- The Boston Post, 1865

2. "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 memo, 1876

3. "The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys." -- Sir William Preece, chief engineer at the Post Office, 1878

4. "There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance. It's a $500 subsidised item. They may make a lot of money. But if you actually take a look at the 1.3 billion phones that get sold, I'd prefer to have our software in 60% or 70% or 80% of them, than I would to have 2% or 3%, which is what Apple might get." -- Steve Ballmer, USA Today, 2007

Audio and video

5. "Radio has no future." -- Lord Kelvin, inventor of the Kelvin scale, 1897

6. "The cinema is little more than a fad. It's canned drama. What audiences really want to see is flesh and blood on the stage." -- Charlie Chaplin, 1916

7. "While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility, a development of which we need waste little time dreaming." -- Lee DeForest, inventor of the vacuum tube, 1926.

8. "Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?" -- Harry Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927

9. "[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, movie producer at 20th Century Fox, 1946

10. "Television won't last. It's a flash in the pan." -- Mary Somerville, educational broadcast pioneer, speaking in 1948


11. "Where a calculator on the ENIAC is equipped with 18,000 vacuum tubes and weighs 30 tons, computers in the future may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and weigh only 1.5 tons." -- Popular Mechanics, March 1949

12. "I went to see Professor Douglas Hartree [in 1951], who had built the first differential analysers in England and had more experience in using these very specialised computers than anyone else. He told me that, in his opinion, all the calculations that would ever be needed in this country could be done on the three digital computers which were then being built - one in Cambridge, one in Teddington, and one in Manchester. No one else, he said, would ever need machines of their own, or would be able to afford to buy them." -- Lord Bowden, American Scientist, 1970

13. "I have travelled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won't last out the year." -- Business books editor, Prentice Hall, 1957

14. "The world potential market for copying machines is 5,000 at most." -- IBM to the founders of Xerox, 1959

15. "In the mid-70s, someone came to me with an idea for what was basically the PC. The idea was that we would outfit an 8080 processor with a keyboard and a monitor and sell it in the home market. I asked: 'What's it good for?' And the only answer was that a housewife could keep her recipes on it. I personally didn't see anything useful in it, so we never gave it another thought." -- Gordon Moore, Intel

16.  "We will never make a 32-bit operating system." -- Bill Gates, speaking at the launch of MSX in 1983

17. "I believe OS/2 is destined to be the most important operating system, and possibly program, of all time." -- Bill Gates, foreword to the OS/2 Programmer's Guide, 1987

18. "Two years from now, spam will be solved." -- Bill Gates, World Economic Forum 2004

The Internet

19. "Almost all of the many predictions now being made about 1996 hinge on the Internet's continuing exponential growth. But I predict the Internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse." -- Robert Metcalfe, 3Com founder and inventor of Ethernet, 1995

What the?

20. "Nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners will probably be a reality in 10 years." -- Sir Alex Lewyt, president and founder of vacuum cleaner maker Lewyt Corporation, 1955

21. "Next Christmas the iPod'll be dead, finished, gone, kaput." -- Sir Alan Sugar, CEO of Amstrad, Daily Telegraph, February 2005

What's your favourite stupid tech prediction? Write in with your comments below!