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10 Quotes That The Tech People Got Wrong

The Oxford English Dictionary defines an ‘expert’ as ‘a person who is very knowledgeable or skilful in a particular area – i.e. an expert in healthcare or a financial expert’. And if the internet has given us anything, it’s a closer proximity to the wisdom of these experts.

After all, whereas we once had to look up what they had said in many different reference books, now we can simply type our query into a single search engine. But of course, no one gets it right all the time… and especially not in the ever-changing world of technology. Nobody ever said that these ‘experts’ were infallible…

1) ‘Everyone acquainted with the subject will recognize it as a conspicuous failure.’

Yes, that’s Henry Morton, president of the Steven’s Institute of Technology (New Jersey, USA) talking about Thomas Edison’s revolutionary light bulb back in 1880.

2) ‘Flight by machines heavier than air is unpractical (sic) and insignificant, if not utterly impossible.’

Simon Newcombe, 1901. Sadly for the Canadian astronomer and mathematician (but not for those of us who enjoy the use of planes to travel the world) the Wright Brothers proved him wrong less than two years later with their first flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

3) ‘The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.’

Clearly Sir William Preece (Chief Engineer of the British Post Office, 1878) had plenty of faith in the personal touch helping Britain stay connected. However modern Britain would be absolutely unthinkable without the telephone, so it’s probably best that this is one expert whose opinion fell on deaf ears.

4) ‘Nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners will probably be a reality in 10 years.’

This was said by Alex Lewyt, president of Lewyt Vacuum Cleaner Corporation, in the New York Times in 1955. Fortunately for those who still struggle with a Dyson, we’re still waiting.

5) ‘That is the biggest fool thing we have ever done .The bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert on explosives’.

Military men are far from infallible on nuclear power too: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (USA) Admiral William D. Leahy, on the A-bomb in 1944. He bitterly opposed its later use in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, comparing it to a barbarism akin to the Dark Ages in his own book about World War II, ‘I Was There’, which was published in 1950.

6) ‘The cinema is little more than a fad. What people really want to see is flesh and blood on the stage.’

Well, Charlie Chaplin was certainly wrong about that back in 1916 – which is probably just as well, considering his long career as a film star and motion picture innovator, whose work dated from 1916 up to 1976.

7) ‘A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.’

That is what a New York Times editorial said back in 1936, which adds a certain irony of the fact the first man on the moon was an American; the now-legendary Neil Armstrong in 1969. But of course America’s longtime rivals, Russia, beat them into space for the first time with Yuri Gagrin in 1961, which predated Armstrong et al.’s moon landing by almost a decade.

8) ‘There is practically no chance communications satellites will be used to provide better telephone, telegraph, television or radio service inside the United States.’

This was said by Tunis Craven, the US’ FCC (Federal Communications Commission) boss in 1961. Of course he was proved wrong only four years later, when the first communications satellites went into service in 1965; setting in motion technologies that are still in use today, both throughout the USA and all over the rest of the world.

9) ‘Spam will soon be a thing of the past.’

And you’d think that Microsoft founder Bill Gates would know – or at least the BBC did, back in 2004. Well here we are several years later with no end to the spam mountain in sight… but still, we at least have spam filters that are better at dealing with it. However, placing a problem aside does not solve it.

10) ‘Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t got through college yet.’

Yes, that’s what Hewlett-Packard said to Steve Jobs, until recently CEO of Apple, in the early 70s when he and Steve Wozniak tried to sell them their first personal computer in the early 70s. And it gets better, when Atari were offered the same thing, including the proviso that Jobs and Wozniack would gift them the technology as long as they were paid to develop it, they were simply told, ‘No.’  Needless to say, Jobs and Wozniack’s fortunes improved immeasurably when they set up their own company in 1976…


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