Industries in Depth

10 predictions for the future that got it wildly wrong

A boy touches a 45-metre (148-feet) long wall lighted by colour rays at an exhibition hall in Wuhan, central China's Hubei province May 1, 2007. Picture taken May 1, 2007. REUTERS/China Daily (CHINA) CHINA OUT

For centuries predictions have driven humanity’s progress. Image: REUTERS/China Daily

Simon Torkington
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A hundred years from now, Elon Musk could be lauded as a visionary genius – or labelled a fantasist.

The Space X CEO is predicting his company will take a million people to Mars by the end of the century, where they’ll live in a self-sustaining city. As bold predictions go, that’s a big one.

For centuries predictions like this have driven humanity’s progress. They have also left some of their authors stranded on the wrong side of history.

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution forces us to think about where today's innovations are taking us, here are 10 predictions that didn’t stand up to the future’s steely gaze.


“The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad.”


That’s how the President of the Michigan Savings Bank tried to discourage Henry Ford’s lawyer from investing in the newly formed motor company. Horace Rackham ignored the advice and quickly turned his $5,000 investment into $12.5 million, as cars replaced horses.


“It will be an easy matter to convert a truckload of iron bars into virgin gold.”

Thomas Edison predicted alchemy would soon be perfected, proving the great American inventor had at least one lightbulb moment that didn’t burn so brightly.


“The coming of the wireless era will make war impossible, because it will make war ridiculous.”

Guglielmo Marconi hoped his wireless telegraph would end war because it enabled more open communication between nations.


“A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.”


The New York Times dismisses the possibility of space travel. The paper issued a light-hearted retraction of its original article as Apollo 11 headed to the moon in 1969.


“Computers in the future may have only 1000 vacuum tubes and perhaps weigh only 1.5 tons.”

Popular Mechanics magazine looked at a 30-ton calculator and dreamed of miniaturization.

Have you read?


“Nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners will probably be a reality in 10 years.”

Alex Lewyt, President of the Lewyt vacuum company, predicts the invention of a device that few people would want to have under the stairs.


Image: Reader's Digest

The Reader’s Digest looks ahead to 1999 and sees rocket packs on our belts, flying cars and climate-controlled cities under glass domes.


“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”

Ken Olsen, founder of the Digital Equipment Corporation, appears to have missed an opportunity. Though to be fair, his computers were bigger than many people’s homes at the time.


“I predict the internet will go spectacularly supernova and in 1996, catastrophically collapse.”

Robert Metcalfe invented the Ethernet cable and worried that his clever piece of wire would not be able to handle all that data.


“Admit it, you’re out of the hardware game.”


Wired Magazine challenges Apple to face up to the ‘fact’ that it can’t compete with other gadget makers.

Four years later the iPod put 1000 songs in our pockets and started Apple’s path to world domination.

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