World's Worst Predictions

Although we typically try to find blog topics that are relevant to the conferences that we host, I thought this topic was too entertaining to pass up.

We all know that leaders around the world love to talk, but sometimes many of them could benefit from thinking before prophesying about the future. The list below is compiled from our favorite failed predictions, but if you are especially interested, check out Laura Lee’s book Bad Predictions.

“Everything that can be invented has been invented.”
Charles H. Duell, an official at the US patent office, 1899

“I see no good reasons why the views given in this volume should shock the religious sensibilities of anyone.” - Charles Darwin, in the foreword to his book, The Origin of Species, 1869

“If anything remains more or less unchanged, it will be the role of women.”
David Riesman, conservative American social scientist, 1967

“Democracy will be dead by 1950.”
John Langdon-Davies, A Short History of The Future, 1936

“In all likelihood world inflation is over.”
International Monetary Fund Ceo, 1959

“This antitrust thing will blow over.”
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft.

“It will be years – not in my time – before a woman will become Prime Minister.”
Margaret Thatcher, future Prime Minister, October 26th, 1969.

“That virus is a pussycat.”
Dr. Peter Duesberg, molecular-biology professor at U.C. Berkeley, on HIV, 1988.

“Sensible and responsible women do not want to vote.”
Grover Cleveland, U.S. President, 1905.

“The multitude of books is a great evil. There is no limit to this fever for writing; every one must be an author; some out of vanity, to acquire celebrity and raise up a name, others for the sake of mere gain.” - Martin Luther, German Reformation leader, Table Talk, 1530s(?).

“Ours has been the first [expedition], and doubtless to be the last, to visit this profitless locality.” - Lt. Joseph Ives, after visiting the Grand Canyon in 1861.

“There is no doubt that the regime of Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction. As this operation continues, those weapons will be identified, found, along with the people who have produced them and who guard them.” - General Tommy Franks, 2003.

“Everyone acquainted with the subject will recognize it as a conspicuous failure.”
Henry Morton, president of the Stevens Institute of Technology, on Edison’s light bulb, 1880.

“The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty, a fad.”
The president of the Michigan Savings Bank advising Henry Ford’s lawyer not to invest in the Ford Motor Co., 1903

“Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value.”
Marechal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre, 1904

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”
Ken Olson, president of Digital Equipment Corp., maker of big business mainframe computers, arguing against the PC in 1977.

“A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.”
New York Times, 1936.

“That is the biggest fool thing we have ever done [research on]… The bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives.” - Admiral William D. Leahy, U.S. Admiral advising President Truman on atomic weaponry, 1944

“A man has been arrested in New York for attempting to extort funds from ignorant and superstitious people by exhibiting a device which he says will convey the human voice any distance over metallic wires so that it will be heard by the listener at the other end. He calls this instrument a telephone. Well-informed people know that it is impossible to transmit the human voice over wires.” - News item in a New York newspaper, 1868

“Television won’t last because people will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” - Darryl Zanuck, movie producer, 20th Century Fox, 1946.

“Rail travel at high speed is not possible, because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.” - Dr Dionysys Larder (1793-1859), professor of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy, University College London.

“What, sir, would you make a ship sail against the wind and currents by lighting a bonfire under her deck? I pray you, excuse me, I have not the time to listen to such nonsense.” - Napoleon Bonaparte, when told of Robert Fulton’s steamboat, 1800s.

“There’s just not that many videos I want to watch.” - Steve Chen, a co-founder of YouTube, in March 2005. At the time YouTube featured about 50 videos. Less than two years later Google acquired YouTube for US$1.65 billion in Google stock.

No Responses to World's Worst Predictions
  1. Scott
    August 5, 2010 | 5:16 am

    Hey Noah,

    Here’s the latest by Prince-

    “The internet is dead”.

  2. J. Steve Miller
    September 7, 2010 | 5:05 am

    Quotes like this are fascinating and extremely useful to keep us from believing the “experts” without evaluating their thought process. In the creative sector – like publishers trying to decide whether or not to take a manuscript, or producers deciding upon a script – so much of it is subjective. And in trusting what the great economists say about the future of the economy, they’re always quoted in the papers, although their predictions are as often wrong as right.

    Example I give from my current book:

    “Let’s face it – gatekeepers in the creative sector don’t possess an infallible sense of either great writing or marketable writing.3 We saw this in recent years when the top executives at Disney – drawing upon their years of experience in the entertainment industry – expressed their total disdain for a new series that some of their ABC underlings were pushing. They said such encouraging comments as

    • “This is a waste of time.” (Robert Iger – past president of ABC and present CEO of Disney)

    • “That’s never going to work.” (Michael Eisner – CEO of Disney at the time)

    On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the best, Eisner graded it a 2.5

    But its creator, Lloyd Braun – against the recommendations of his superiors – moved forward with the pilot for “Lost,” which became ABC’s first breakout hit in years, topping all the ratings, capturing the imagination of millions of followers, and winning an Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series and a Golden Globe for Best Drama.

    Yet, even after seeing the pilot, Eisner was singularly underwhelmed, saying “’Lost’ is terrible…. Who cares about these people on a desert island?”5.5 Although millions of viewers ended up caring, Lloyd Braun was fired before the series even started.

    J. Steve Miller
    President, Legacy Educational Resources
    Author of Enjoy Your Money! How to Make It, Save It, Invest It and Give It
    “The money book for people who hate money books.”

  3. Anne Isenhower
    October 7, 2010 | 5:13 pm

    Great job, Noah!

  4. MB L
    October 8, 2010 | 5:44 am

    Great post. Add to the list…

    – essentially everything Malthus said about food production and population growth.

    - essentially everything subsequently said by neo-malthusians, even after seeing how utterly baseless previous population doomsday predictions were (and some still peddle it!)

    - essentially everything Al Gore said about…well, everything

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