Failed futuristic predictions

Discuss

41 Responses to “Failed futuristic predictions”

  1. Pyros says:

    Corrected Version:

    Flying Squid,

    I think the whole matter is about as nuanced as you suggest. When we’re asked to contemplate imagined things and how they may function in the world and of what utility they may be, or not, the mind enters a strange almost mystical place.

    And the act of imagining exactly what occurred in the public mind (or even any particular mind) when presented with some novel thing 100 or 200 years ago is not very different from the very act of imagining something novel.

    Is it possible that we could imagine someone imagining a stolid war bird upon first seeing the Wright Brother’s rickety contraption? If anything, it is a more lofty feat of the imagination for someone today to understand why such a thing would not have been easily imaginable. You have succeeded in getting me to see that.

    The discussion starts me thinking about how the brain processes ideas. This is something that is quite fascinating to me because I have a lot of ideas about a lot of things, and I’m always going around talking about them. I would even say that it is what my brain is adapted to do. I don’t mean this as a boast because I readily admit that there is nothing else it seems to be adapted to do well, but I mention it because I have experience with how people respond to new ideas. I might venture to say that the normal brain is necessarily occupied with things of a more practical nature.

    The issue that we’re dealing with here is a frequently seen trope meant to point out how stupid people once were. At the very least, if that is so by some reckoning, I want to make it clear that people are no different in the modern age.

    In evaluating how people may have responded to novelty in the past, it is quite easy to ignore the precedents that we are privy to which inform our view. We have seen the F18 and the 747, they never did.

    It is also easy to ignore the precedents and context that our antecedents were privy to that we are not that further obscures our point of view. They knew only of an airplane-less world. Whatever the merits of the airplane, it is a plain fact that the world got on for billions of years just fine before it arrived on the scene, and it would be absurd to attempt to make the case that when it finally did arrive that it suddenly “necessary” even if it later became so.

    In fact, the more I think about the whole thing, the more I sort of change my whole point of view. Forget about all the great ideas that might have originally been scoffed at by some notable person. What about all the bad ideas that we ALL might have though great in the beginning? It seems like that happens with much greater frequency. We all have familiarity with that, right? And for the analogy to be fair, I don’t think we have to keep to the world of electronic or mechanical inventions. You may have had cause to think that it was a terrific idea to marry the person you did only to find out later how horribly and utterly wrong you were. How is it really much different?

    Too, to address another point you made, ideas might not necessarily succeed because of careful planning and foresight. If anything helps, it is probably this, but plenty of ideas that were well planned still fail. This is so because the world is full of variables which make obvious and accurate predictions difficult. If there is any reason why we have in our world things that work it is probably has most to do with the fact that people are constantly trying new things—and failing. That’s about it. It only seems like the consequence of careful planning because we make a cause and effect error.

    And then there are ideas which seem like sure failures which succeed nevertheless. I would guess EBay is an example of this. I guess whenever you put something in to the world, you are doing something powerful, almost God-like whether it succeeds or fails. When you create something, there’s no telling what might happen. To think that you might know is tantamount to ignoring the complexities of the universe.

    In my general experience, however, people aren’t comfortable with the neutrality of not knowing. We are generally convinced that our own ideas are fabulous and will succeed, and pretty much the opposite for everyone else’s ideas. But be they ours or others, ideas fail not because they were bad exactly, but because they weren’t sufficiently improved to make them successful. If we do set about the task of improving a failed idea, we dramatically increase the chance of later success.

    And what about the weird metaphysics around even defining what a successful idea is? The Wright Brother’s plane and their flight at Kitty Hawk is just the demarcation point after which we all agreed that the idea of human flight was valid. But compared to today’s airplanes their plane was still a miserable failure. And would we dare laugh or point the finger at some ancient statesman who dismissed the idea of flight upon viewing the performance of the most successful failed craft that tried to fly just before the successful flight at Kitty Hawk? No one suffers posthumous abuse for any such thing, but if they did, it really wouldn’t be much different from those who failed to see all of the possibilities that the Wright brother’s plane may have foretold.

    Certainly the Wright Brother’s deserve to be lauded for their achievements, but perhaps not so much more than everyone who held the idea at the time that flight was possible before it was definitively demonstrated. In a particular way, they, along with everyone else who may have failed along the way in trying to make something fly are also responsible for flight.

    Virtually every object in the world around us makes a failure out of all of the forms which lead up to it and will itself someday represent a failed idea. Therefore, if we are to be consistent in our mockery of those in the past who may have failed to see the value of something we value today, we need to mock not only those who may have declared the Wright Brother’s contraption worthless, but also everyone who DID see its value but failed to see in that original form a much improved version of it, and we also need to mock ourselves for not seeing similar improvements which could be made in our own world.

  2. Pyros says:

    There’s a phenomenology about how people respond to new ideas that is not really understood. It is easy to laugh at people who lived long ago who dismissed ideas which eventually became very successful, but people are no different today.

    There is no idea which is so wonderful and obvious that people will immediately recognize its value. Once things become super obvious they cease to be ideas.

    Ideas terrify people. Bertrand Russell once said, “Most people would rather die than think; in fact most do.” And so it would seem. When you present a new idea most people automatically and immediately shut it down because they are incapable of evaluating it on its own merits.

  3. Flying Squid says:

    A lot of them are out of context definitely. For example-

    «This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.»
    A memo at Western Union, 1878 (or 1876).

    Bell’s original telephone DID have too many shortcomings. Until the 20th century, you had to practitally shout into them. The film Topsy-Turvy has a wonderful scene reproducing it.

    The fact that until the 70s, Western Union continued to use telegraphy to send messages, I don’t see that quote as a bad prediction at all.

    A lot of other quotes are similar- the claim of airplanes being useless for warfare for example. The Wright Flyer and other early airplanes WERE useless for warfare because they were basically wood and paper. The airplanes used in WWI were only usable due to some major improvements to design.

    In other words, while there are a few very silly predictions in there, many of them make perfect sense in the context of the time in which they were said- usually because the invention of the time really was as useless as they claimed it was.

  4. Pyros says:

    Hi Teresa,

    Thank you for your response and your kind words. An explanation is all that would have been necessary. There was nothing in any post that did not appear that was in anyway inflammatory, disrespectful, etc. Could not figure out why I had been banned from the site. Additionally, I had made inquiries and never received a response as to why this happened, in fact, I still don’t know.

    I don’t happen to hold the view that any comment should be allowed, necessarily, but when innocuous comments aren’t allowed, it makes me wonder what’s going on. Ironically, it was the angry comments that you did allow! Perhaps it is no excuse, but anger and frustration are predictable responses from someone who is ignored.

    Here’s the thing. I fully acknowledge that I may be fully or almost entirely in the wrong. For all I know the whole thing may have been an innocent oversight or a computer glitch of some kind. I really don’t know what happened, and I’m not sure whether it is even knowable at this point or worth the bother to find out.

    At the very least I would want you to understand that I hold a site that goes on about censorship on a regular basis to a fairly standard when it comes to things related to things that might be censored. I get the feeling that you guys at Boing Boing don’t like it very much, and rightly so. Perhaps I was laboring under a misapprehension when I smelled hypocrisy, so would only ask that you generously view the comments that I made strictly in that context. Confidently know too that whatever I may have written to you it did not compare at all in its force and anger to what I sent over to the folks at Black Water USA.

    Understand too that I am, in some ways, a deeply frustrated person, and a lot of this frustration comes from many of the things I read on Boing Boing, and indeed not really knowing much about Boing Boing itself. It is not my place to judge you or any of the people who work there or even speculate on what your intentions are with the site, etc. I’m guessing that it has blown up over the years beyond all expectation. No one there, I’m sure asked to be but in a position of any kind of social responsibility. But the power of the site is such that you can’t avoid making some kind of choice.

    Of course whatever you do is your own business, but I can’t help but think that if you or any of you were so inclined you could have a huge impact in whatever direction you pointed your formidable talents.

    I would like to sort of illustrate my point by taking one story that appeared on the pages of Boing Boing recently that concerned the electrocution of children. So let me ask you how you expect your readership to respond when they read something like that? I personally don’t read these items for my own delectation like the way one might watch the local news. I spent part of my childhood growing up in such institutions so these things deeply affect me.

    More to the point, the very act of reading such a story poses a moral dilemma for all parties concerned. Am I supposed to forget about them and go about life as usual? Is it posted merely to cause a fleeting emotion of dread and revulsion the way a local news story does about a fatal car accident? What is the real point of brining them to our attention? To which standard do you wish to be held? To something like the standard that I hold the local news, or FOX or NBC, or something much higher?

    In some respects, the blogging movement is missing its full potential because it has taken some of its cues from the older forms of media which it is slowly replacing. And to some extent I don’t fault it for this because it had to start somewhere, and it’s had to find its way. Additionally, the overwhelming influence of a dominant archetype would have been unavoidable. Too, without some similarity to these predating forms it might have impressed people as too odd.

    But it has matured past a certain level, and what is evident to me is that it permits a much greater degree of freedom even in its current form even while its ultimate potential no has yet to be tapped or exploited. My wish is that it would leave behind that from which it may have emerged or that by which it may have been largely informed. It is something new, and its potential is far vaster.

    For example, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a call to action on the evening news whether it be local or national. Never once have I seen anything about how government works, where to go to a city hall meeting, or any information about how my views might be expressed. Right now, blogs have comments, and that’s about it, and even this minor thing is a huge improvement, but I imagine so much more.

    Big media thrives on our passivity. They don’t care about changing the world. They only care about making money, and tragedy and fear are their trade. That is why they present a never ending scroll of horrors without ever giving people any idea what to do, who to contact, etc. The powers that be don’t want people to do anything.

    But what is the point in learning about these horrors if we are not encouraged to do something about them? Imagine someone drowning in a lake on a warm summer’s day. Tragic, of course. More tragic would be to imagine that the drowning was observed by a contingent of lifeguards who stood nearby on the shore and did nothing. I think the analogy is apt when thinking about the “news”.

    If the point of posting a story about the electrocution of children has something to do with anything other than perverse voyeurism, then I would exhort you to take things to their logical conclusion. Boing Boing is in a powerful position. This may not be a position that your comfortable with, and you may be unsure of how to use it etc., but it is an undeniable fact. And whatever power you have now, it could be increased exponentially. At some point you’re going to have to decide, if you haven’t already, whether you want to leverage it in some way to increase the social good.

    This may not be what any of you thought you were getting yourselves into, but like it or not, it is where you’re at. Your choices either way have moral implications. I have lots of ideas about a lot of things, and would be happy to discuss them with you if you’re ever interested. I mean, you realize that you’re in a position to change the world in to the kind of world you want, right? We can change the world if we want to.

    In conclusion, I deeply apologize to you, Cory, Mark, and whomever else I may have offended mainly because it was wrong, but also because I really don’t want to come off as a nutcase. I hope you understand on some level that I am a deeply sincere, deeply passionate person. If indeed you have noble intentions, or even have the vague intent of developing noble intentions, I want you to know that I am on your side, and you will have to look far and wide before finding someone else who is as loyal and dedicated, and yes, fiery.

    In peace,

    Pyros

  5. Tale says:

    Was Thomas Edison assuming people would just share music? Because it wants to be free? Interesting.

    «The phonograph has no commercial value at all.»
    Thomas Edison, American inventor, 1880s.

  6. Flying Squid says:

    Pyros, I have nothing to add because you put it better than I could have myself. :)

  7. Kyle Armbruster says:

    The other thing going on here is a simple sampling error. We’re only seeing the funny ones. They’re only funny because they turned out to be wrong. We don’t see the ones that turned out to be right.

    More inventions fail than take off. You can basically predict that any new idea is going to fail and be right most of the time. The first time we see a new idea, it usually is roughcut and useless. Sometimes these problems can be worked out; many times they cannot. These naysayers simply looked at the rev. 1.0 versions of inventions and ideas and incorrectly predicted that the problems were insurmountable. They weren’t ignorant (well, some of the comments were, to be sure); they simply miscalculated other factors outside of the idea itself.

    When I say that Linux will never oust Windows or the MacOS on the desktop, for example, what I’m saying is that, given the challenges facing it now, I just can’t see any way that it could get the kind of adoption some people seem to think is just around the corner. I’d love to be proven wrong, but I’m very sure I’m right, given things do not radically change in the future (breakup of Microsoft, MS ditching Windows for a Linux distro, etc.).

    But in all these cases, and in the case of my example here, it all depends on how many people get involved–and this is unknowable. There’s a tipping point, it seems, where you get an idea developed to the point that enough people want it and suddenly everyone wants it and all those people, in some way, contribute to its further development. If everyone agrees with an idea, that’s its whole value. Most ideas just never get to that tipping point, because most people don’t sign onto an idea because it’s good; they sign on because everyone else did, and that creates a social system that benefits everyone.

  8. Teresa Nielsen Hayden / Moderator says:

    Squid, the Wikipedia entry isn’t the first collection of failed futuristic predictions ever compiled, and it leans heavily on earlier versions. As I’ve said before, swiping a trope isn’t a ripoff. Tropes are fair game.

  9. Pyros says:

    Flying Squid, you write,

    “In other words, while there are a few very silly predictions in there, many of them make perfect sense in the context of the time in which they were said- usually because the invention of the time really was as useless as they claimed it was.”

    I think you both make a good point and at the same time miss an important one. When someone invents something like an airplane or telephone, the thoughtful person doesn’t automatically declare that it is useless for this or that purpose because of some limitations in current design. The thoughtful person sees the potential of the idea, and says, “if we made it out of something other than paper or would…maybe it could be a more useful weapon”, or “if we could only improve it so people didn’t have to shout to be heard…”. The even more thoughtful person goes about devising these improvements.

  10. MarlboroTestMonkey7 says:

    The last one (New York newspaper bit) seems like a time traveler account, steampunkish is you will. AND NOW, ABUSING OF YOUR TIME AND THE INHERENT CHARACTERISTIC OF THE NET TO CONTAIN AND DISEMINATE UNVERIFIABLE INFORMATION I’LL VENTURE A WIMSY EDIT:
    «A known embezzler has been aprehended for newly attempting to deceive the gullible but decent citizens of New Jersey with a device he declared able to “completely replace the written page as a means of communication” and “usher the dawn a new era of information”. Afterwards the exhibition which was plaged with what the man called “bugs” and “screen of death” but seemingly called the attention of a cadre of invited learned men, the device was promptly destroyed and the ex-con banished to the borders of town.
    One Willmina Gates of Boston, MA, sent a long note to this newspaper denouncing what she called “the unbridled hubris of science which seeks to replace souless machines for the honest labor of men”. “What if not evil would arise of such endevours?”, she writes, “the country will never allow it’s citizens to surrender their minds these stupifying mesmerizations”, to what this reporter says “Amen”. News article in an american newspaper, 1871

  11. Keneke says:

    I dunno, that Martin Luther quote kinda pegged it – not the evil part, but the “no limit for this fever called writing” part.

  12. Gorrika says:

    When the Beatles first approached a record label, they were told that they should give up, for guitar bands “are on their way out.”

  13. Teresa Nielsen Hayden / Moderator says:

    Pyros (29), I do read your comments. They’re frequently valuable and insightful, and I’m glad you post them here. On the other hand, when you lose your temper, you go way over the line.

    I’m sorry if you think it’s unforgiveable that someone zapped what you yourself have described as your “vitriolic blather.” Comments like that give readers a jolt of pure unpleasantness every time they read them. We can’t help it — we automatically read whatever falls under our eye. It’s impossible to have a good conversation when you’re constantly apprehensive about getting the verbal equivalent of an electrical shock.

    There’s a difference between censorship and comment moderation. To my mind, censorship is: “To the full extent of our powers, we’ll make sure nobody gets to read this.” Comment moderation is: “You’re free to write this, and people are free to read it — just not here.”

  14. slawkenbergius says:

    Just a couple of thoughts…

    «Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.»
    Lord Kelvin, British mathematician and physicist, president of the British Royal Society, 1895.

    I guess Kelvin never went outside much to look at birds, bees, etc?

    «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.

    This is taken out of context a little bit. Of course Darwin saw those good reasons: he delayed publishing for 20 years because of them. There’s a tension of rhetoric running through the whole work, in which Darwin writes already responding to the criticism he knows he’ll get from those religious types.

  15. MarlboroTestMonkey7 says:

    Hey, hey, correction in order:
    One Willmina Gates of Boston, MA, sent a long note to this newspaper denouncing what she called “the unbridled hubris of science which seeks to replace the honest labor of men for souless machines”. “What if not evil would arise of such endevours?”, she writes, “the country will never allow it’s citizens to surrender their minds these stupifying mesmerizations”, to what this reporter says “Amen”. News article in an american newspaper, 1871

  16. Flying Squid says:

    I suppose you’re right, Pyros. The predictions fail to see the potential of the invention, but I think that’s going back to the old chestnut of necessity being the mother of invention. People don’t understand the way to practically use something until someone finds a real need.

    The Wright plane could go a few hundred feet, slowly. Other planes of the era did similar and failed, to the point that in 1908 in The War in the Air, H.G. Wells predicts that by 1914, the airplane would be deemed impractical and another heavier-than-air flying machine (an ornithopter) is invented. I think the issue here is that many of these inventions, to realize their potential, you need some far-sightedness.

    However, many of the lines don’t call the inventions useless… like the telephone one. They said ‘the device is inherently of no value to us,’ which is the important thing. They were not saying it would not be useful, just not to them. And they were essentially right (until the last few decades anyway).

    So I think you have three different types of ‘predictions’ (for lack of a better word) here- excluding urban legend quotes that is. The first is the truly stupid statement:

    “Space travel is bunk.” — Sir Harold Spencer Jones, Astronomer Royal of the UK, 1957, two weeks prior to Sputnik orbiting the Earth.

    I mean that’s just phenomenally stupid since there had already been non-orbital high-altitude rocket launches before Sputnik. A modified V-2 rocket with a fly for payload did it soon after WWII in the U.S.

    The second is the short-sighted statement:

    “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, actor, producer, director, and studio founder, 1916.

    If you look at film up to that point, he was pretty much right. Movies were like a carnival attraction until then. An interesting curiosity, but without much of a compelling storyline and, more importantly, no dialogue. It took people like Chaplin to bring stagecraft to film. It took the innovation of himself and others in the late teens and early twenties to transform film from a novelty to a huge entertainment medium.

    The third is out of context:

    “The world potential market for copying machines is 5000 at most.” — IBM, to the eventual founders of Xerox, saying the photocopier had no market large enough to justify production, 1959.

    Note the word is in that sentence. It’s not a prediction. I think it is obvious, considering how expensive the first Xerox copiers were, that IBM thought the market would be too small at the manufacturing price to be able to sell it successfully. Photocopying technology had existed since the 1930s, so it is not as if IBM had no idea what it was.

  17. Pyros says:

    Thanks for the love (craft) squid! Perhaps it will not surprise you that I have plenty more to say on the topic.

    To a certain extent I am trying to make a case for how useless trying to make a prediction about the possible success of an idea is. There’s a certain thing about ideas which can perhaps be compared to certain laws of physics which govern chaos, or so it would seem.

    It might, for instance seem like a good idea to dump a load of rabbits into the wilds of Australia so that settlers will have plentiful food to eat, and it may then seem like a good idea to then introduce another kind of animal to kill the rabbits when the rabbits unexpectedly start eating the settlers and so on. Eventually you have a situation that is not so different than the situation we now have in Iraq. Before the war started, most were in favor of invading.

    Of course things sometimes go the other way with ideas when they work beyond all expectation (I’m afraid I cannot think of an example of this though).

    Maybe the rabbit example wasn’t the best one to choose (or Iraq) since the eventual result might have been knowable in advance. But at the very least, we are often surprised when our ideas, once they are made, start to behave in unexpected ways. This kind of gives them the quality of magic.

    At the same time, there is something wildly unpredictable about some ideas, and I’m reminded of this every time I go to a department store and see a swimming orgy of both the garish and the sublime on the clothing racks. Each article, like some coelenterate on the ocean floor uniquely designed to collect whatever morsel of food might be floating by, will similarly eventually appeal to some human buyer with a wad of money (or credit).

    And to underscore the randomness of human taste, may we all agree that there has never been any such article so superbly designed, colored and crafted that we all agree on its merits to such an extent that we are all uniformly dressed (some junior high schools in the mid 80′s notwithstanding)?

    Who was it that once said that there is no accounting for taste?

    What baffles me most are what seem like obvious ideas which no one but me seems to see, or having seen do anything about. You might wonder why I don’t do anything to bring them to fruition, and the answer is because I’m a total incompetent when it comes to everything BUT ideas. It’s kind of weird.

    I’ll give you an example. I enjoy a good donnybrook as much as the next bloke as may now be evident, but find the online version a poor substitute for the in-person version. When I write online, it is like writing in to a void, almost. Occasionally someone will comment about the comment I have left, but far more often I’m ignored.

    I mean, if you posted something on Boing Boing, wouldn’t it make a difference to you to know how many people might have viewed your comment, or how many people might have even read it? I don’t think that it would be difficult for a smart person to arrange for this to be.

    Forget about Del.ici.ous, Digg, Redit, and the rest. They represent good ideas, but I think simple things that appeal to individual rather than to people who have concocted a scheme to make a billion dollars could dramatically improve just about every blog. If I see your comments, currently, in order to let you know that I’ve seen your comments, I have but one choice which is to leave a comment of my own. Because this might be arduous or inconvenient in some cases, there might be many instances when and where I don’t leave a comment.

    What would be most ideal is to have some mechanism to simply indicate that I had read the comment IN addition to the option of leaving a comment. Perhaps I could simply click on a button next to your comment. Because I would be logged in as Pyros, the computer system could then indicate to you somehow that your comment was read by Pyros. Then you could look at your post and see not only those who might have left a comment, but also a role call of everyone who wanted to let you know that they had read your post.

    If part of the success of a particular blog could be measured in how many viewers leave comments behind, this alone would greatly contribute to that success. If you knew that you had a silent audience of thousands of people, (who knows) you would probably interact more and leave more comments, right? That’s my theory, anyway.

    But this is just the beginning. Imagine that all of the comments that you make throughout the blogosphere could be collected in to one place. If this could be done, then someone could follow your comment trail through the internet which in turn would bring them in to contact with even more blogs at which they might be tempted to leave a comment. Hitching rides this way through the internet would be far more interesting than the walled garden of a MySpace or Facebook. Yeah, they’re fancy and all, but like Jonestown, they never want you to leave. There’s just something about that that sticks in my craw. Heck, if I liked what you had to say, I would simply want to have an RSS not of your blog, but of your comments. Does it take a rocket scientist, a brain surgeon, or a real estate agent to see that this would liven up the internet discourse a little? Imagined this way, leaving comments would be no different than blogging. In fact, your comments could be your blog.

    Further, imagine other simple, but very enriching capabilities. I guess the prevailing assumption is that blog comments have very little value. But I don’t see this at all. I think they could have a great deal of value. Am I the only one who has ever wanted to have a more in-depth, meaningful discussion about a certain topic after my appetite had been whetted by a particular blog posting or the subsequent comments to that posting? Why then not have a way to arrange to discuss the matter further with interested parties? You could put up a calendar icon, and anyone interested in discussing the idea further could simply note their availability. There might then be some link to Skype of some other form of cheap conferencing. Those interested but unable to attend could then receive the recorded session of the discussion via email at a later date, and of course the recorded discussion would then go back up next to the original post.

    The way the whole blogging thing has been imagined, especially by the most successful bloggers is as a kind of rapidly scrolling torrent of trivial tidbits. Everything gets flushed away each and every day which seems like a bit of a waste. I often wonder what the point is in bringing something to someone’s attention in the first place. A few weeks ago (or has it been months now?) there was an article on Boing Boing about kids being electrocuted by evil people somewhere in Maryland (I think it was). A few days later the story disappeared, and as far as I know the kids are still being tortured. Call me sentimental, but I’m still a little worried about these children. There should be some kind of software to enable people to easily follow up on the things they are interested in whenever they return to a blog. After posting this comment, when I come back to Boing Boing, I don’t want to have to go digging. I don’t want to see the story I’m interested flushed down the memory hole only to be replaced by some story about some weirdo’s collection of golden pickle forks, or whatever. I want to come back to my stuff, and I want to continue having a meaningful discussion about it until I’m through, the rest of the world be damned. I’m a madman, I know. But as George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “Indifference is the essence of inhumanity.” So good or bad, tell me what you think. I would love to know. Isn’t there some genius out there who can make these things if indeed they have merit? Has anyone read this post? I am going mad!

    I must now go out in to the cool air…

  18. Teresa Nielsen Hayden / Moderator says:

    Robert (15), you’ve got a point, and so (I now acknowledge) does Squid: same assortment in the same order in the same words is not fair game; it’s a swipe.

  19. tenner says:

    Poor Lord Kelvin had quite terrible prognostication abilities…

  20. Pyros says:

    Teresa, did you read my posts?

    Anyway, I want to publicly apologize to you or someone else at Boing Boing if you did not, in fact, censor my comments the other day, and for my vitriolic blather.

    But if I was censore by some unseen hand at Boing Boing, I wanted to make it clear that sense you guys make a big deal about censorship it was rather unforgiveable that you did it yourself.

    Whatever the case, no one ever bothered to explain what happened.

  21. Fnarf says:

    Speaking of plagiarism, the Wikipedia article is almost entirely copied from yet another page, on which the entries are unsourced. “A newspaper”, yeah right. I think the Wikipedia article should be deleted post haste; it’s bullshit.

  22. NoneSuch says:

    I thought plagiarism was cool around here. Aren’t we against such concepts as “intellectual property” and copyrights and so forth? It’s like copying music.

  23. Zum Zamim says:

    As has already been mentioned above, fully half of these like the Bill Gates, Wilbur Wright, Charles Darwin, etc. quotes were not far looking future predictions, but instead were crafted statements designed to give the individual a particular preemptive argument to blunt the statements of critics or competitors.

  24. Flying Squid says:

    I read it, but it has a lot to go over. I’ll try to comment about it soon. Just didn’t want to leave you in the lurch.

  25. Annaphis says:

    And of course you could add this one:

    “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

    Thomas Watson Senior, Chairman of IBM, 1943

  26. TomHung says:

    Dont forget about Mitt Romney’s buddy Joseph Smith Jr. (Mormon Prophet for those not in Utah & Idaho)

    7 nice failed prophecies
    http://www.irr.org/mit/jsfalpro.html

  27. help i cant comfirm my username themelonbread says:

    Ew… this wikipedia list (Why isn’t it named a list!?!?! rawr!) veers on the side of uncencyclopaedicity. Although the criteria for inclusion in this article is unambiguous (unlike “List of ‘Unusual Deaths’” [scare quotes mine], which is a constant POV and unverifiable battlefield of subjectivity), the actual distinction of being a failed prediction seems to be a trivial and objectively unnotable subject. In addition, the organization of the article is horribly informal, and many of the entries seem to be personal opinions or comments in passing.

    Although this material and its delicious irony may be great fodder for Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader edition XXZZ, it does not belong on WP’s mainspace. Someone should tranwiki it to a more informal site, and delete the article.

    Wow. I’m definitely all WP-nerded out for the night.

  28. Robert says:

    Teresa, this is pretty much a word-for-word copy of the Wikipedia page. It has the same “predictions” in the same order (with a bit of reorganization). It’s far more than repeating a “trope.”

    The article on the 2Spare website is dated 3/28/2006. Here’s the version from Wikipedia as of that date for comparison:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Failed_predictions&oldid=45654296

    It bugs me that this is a commercial site that makes a buck through blatant plagiarism. This is a site that appears to be founded on ripping off other people’s content without attribution.

    For example, yesterday it posted an article on Hiroo Onada. The first paragraph is a copy/paste job from an earlier article from Damn Interesting (which gives proper credit to Wikipedia), and the second paragraph is a copy/paste job from the Wikipedia page. It doesn’t provide any attribution.

    http://www.2spare.com/item_91025.aspx

    http://www.damninteresting.com/?p=253

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hiroo_Onada

  29. joshhaglund says:

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

    i think by some definitions of democracy (those involving fair, competitive elections) this prediction didn’t fail.

  30. tim says:

    “Where’s my damned picturephone and hoovercar with the bubble top?”

    Well for the first I can offer iChat AV. Works nicely for me.

    Not sure about the hoovercar, unless you’re after a scaled up Roomba?

  31. Teresa Nielsen Hayden / Moderator says:

    Fnarf, what page is the entry copied from?

  32. Pyros says:

    I would never want to be left in the lurch by a flying squid, so I appreciate that.

  33. Beastmouth says:

    I dunno about Toronto, Cory, but here in the NC Piedmont USA all our vacuums are nuclear powered.

    Of course, the reactors are a couple miles away…

  34. Shrdlu says:

    Where’s my damned picturephone and hoovercar with the bubble top?

  35. Beastmouth says:

    Jeez, on reading TFA, seems like a good bunch of these aren’t even proven wrong yet, or worse, aren’t even predictions.
    I mean, Marx’s prediction of capitalism setting up its own demise certainly falls flat given the situation the American empire’s built for itself.
    And clearly Goering’s declaration in early ’42 that Americans make poor aircraft was an accurate prediction… No, wait, it was an accurate assessment of the ass-kicking the Curtiss P-40 and Grumman F4F tended to get from the Japanese Zeros and other craft. (Barring, of course, the times actual experience on the Allied side managed to overcome mere technology on the part of the Axis…)

  36. Aaron T. says:

    Lots of these strike me as probably apocryphal or taken out of context, given how unreasonably certain and absolute many are about the complete halt of any further development or improvement in a given area.

  37. schmod says:

    «Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.»
    Irving Fisher, economics professor at Yale University, 1929.

    Well… he was more or less right, was he not?

  38. Pyros says:

    Flying Squid,

    I think the whole matter is about as nuanced as you suggest. When we’re asked to contemplate imagined things and how they may function in the world and of what utility they may be, or not, the mind enters a strange almost mystical place.

    And the act of imagining exactly what occurred in the public mind (or even any particular mind) when presented with some novel thing 100 or 200 years ago is not very different from the very act of imagining something novel.

    Is it possible that we could imagine someone imagining a stolid war bird upon first seeing the Wright Brother’s rickety contraption? If anything, it is a more lofty feat of the imagination for someone today to understand why such a thing would not have been easily imaginable. You have succeeded in getting me to see that.

    It starts me thinking about how the brain processes ideas. This is something that is quite fascinating to me because I have a lot of ideas about a lot of things, and I’m always going around talking about them. I would even say that it is what my brain is adapted to do. I don’t mean this as a boast because I readily admit that there is nothing else it seems to be adapted to do well, but I mention it because I have experience with how people respond to new ideas. I might venture to say that the normal brain is necessarily occupied with things of a more practical nature.

    The issue that we’re dealing with here is a frequently seen trope meant to point out how stupid people once were. If that is so by some reckoning, I want to at least make it clear that people are no different in the modern age.

    In evaluating how people may have responded to novelty in the past, it is quite easy to ignore the precedents that we are privy to which inform our view. We have seen the F18 and the 747, they never did.

    It is also easy to ignore the precedents and context that our antecedents were privy to that we are not that further obscures our point of view. They knew only of an airplane-less world. Whatever the merits of the airplane, it is a plain fact that the world got on for billions of just fine before it arrived on the scene, and one could not have made a case when it finally did arrive that it suddenly “necessary” even if it later became so.

    In fact, the more I think about the whole thing, the more I sort of change my whole point of view. Forget about all the great ideas that might have originally been scoffed at by some notable person. What about all the bad ideas that we ALL might have though great in the beginning? Seems like that happens with much greater frequency. We all have familiarity with that, right? And for the analogy to be fair, I don’t think we have to keep to the world of electronic or mechanical inventions. You may have had cause to think that it was a terrific idea to marry the person you did only to find out later how terribly wrong you were. How is it really much different?

    Too, to address another point you made, ideas might not necessarily succeed because of careful planning and foresight. If anything helps, it is probably this, but plenty of ideas that were well planned still fail. This is so because the world is full of variables which make obvious and accurate predictions difficult. IF there is any reason why we have in our world things that work it is probably has most to do with the fact that people are constantly trying new things—and failing. That’s about it.

    And then there are ideas which seem like sure failures which succeed nevertheless. I would guess EBay is an example of this. I guess whenever you put something in to the world, you are doing something powerful, almost God-like whether it succeeds or fails. When you create something, there’s no telling what might happen. To think that you might know is tantamount to ignoring the complexities of the universe.

    In my general experience, however, people aren’t comfortable with the neutrality of not knowing. We are generally convinced that our own ideas are great and will succeed, and pretty much the opposite for everyone else’s ideas. But be they ours or others, I would ideas fail not because they were bad exactly, but because they weren’t sufficiently improved to make them successful. If we do set about the task of improving a failed idea, we dramatically increase the chance of later success.

    And how do we even go about defining what a successful idea is? The Wright Brother’s plane and their flight at Kitty Hawk is just the demarcation point after which we all agreed that the idea of human flight was valid. But compared to today’s airplanes it is still just another failed idea. And would we dare laugh or point the finger at some ancient statesman who dismissed the idea of flight upon viewing the performance of the most successful failed craft that tried to fly just before the successful flight at Kitty Hawk? No one suffers posthumous abuse for any such thing, but if they did, it really wouldn’t be much different from those who failed to see all of the possibilities that the Wright brother’s plane may have foretold.

    Certainly the Wright Brother’s deserve to be lauded for their achievements, but perhaps not so much more than everyone who held the idea at the time that flight was possible before it was definitively demonstrated. In a particular way, they, along with everyone else who may have failed along the way in trying to make something fly are also responsible for flight.

    Virtually every object in the world around us makes a failure out of all of the forms which lead up to it and will itself someday represent a failed idea. Therefore, if we are to be consistent in our mockery of those in the past who may have failed to see the value of something we value today, we need to mock not only those who may have declared the Wright Brother’s contraption worthless, but also everyone who DID see its value but failed to see in that original form a much improved version of it.

  39. Eli says:

    Aaron- I agree. Particularly the one sourced to “a New York newspaper.” Someone get Snopes in on this.

  40. dculberson says:

    Didn’t the antitrust thing blow over for Microsoft? At least in the US, that is..

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