Weren’t we supposed to have flying cars by now?
This article is both a critical examination and funny look back at so many hilariously wrong future predictions.
Throughout history there have been millions of false predictions from everything from the return of Jesus Christ, to World War 3 to the end of the world itself…
Famous failed predictions
The Second Coming of Jesus
Jesus was one of the first to give a false prediction: “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” Matthew 16:28, Luke 9:27
Since Jesus made this false prediction, there have been thousands of false predictions for the return of Jesus and the end of the world
I remember being told as a teenager that Jesus would return and the world would end in the year 2000 😉
The Titanic is unsinkable
“There is no danger that Titanic will sink. The boat is unsinkable and nothing but inconvenience will be suffered by the passengers.” – Phillip Franklin, vice president of the White Star Line, which had produced the Titanic, 1912
X-rays are a hoax
“X-rays will prove to be a hoax.” – Lord Kelvin, Mathematician, Physicist and President of the Royal Society, 1883
Telephones won’t be taken seriously as a means of communication
“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.” — William Orton, President of Western Union – 1876
Machine guns will make war impossible
In response to the question, “Will this gun not make war more terrible?” from Havelock Ellis, an English scientist, Hiram Maxim, inventor of the machine gun replied, “No, it will make war impossible” – 1893
Hi-speed rail travel is not possible
“Rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.” – Dr. Dionysius Lardner, 1830 (the Shanghai Maglev can travel at 267 mph/431 km/hr)
Submarines are deathtraps
“I must confess that my imagination refuses to see any sort of submarine doing anything but suffocating its crew and floundering at sea.” – HG Wells – 1901
Stock prices peaked in 1929
“Stock prices have reached a permanently high plateau.” – Yale economist, Irving Fisher, 1929, after the Dow Jones reached 381.17 points (Currently the Dow Jones is at 26,048.51 points which is a 6733.83% increase upon his prediction, and not far off the all-time record of 26,828.39 set on October 3, 2018)
Flying machines are impossible
“Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” – Lord Kelvin, Mathematician and Physicist, President of the Royal Society, 1895
A rocket will never leave the earths atmosphere
“A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.” – New York Times, 1936 (Manned missions to Mars are planned by the mid 2030’s)
Horses are here to stay, the automobile is a fad
“The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty, a fad.” – President of the Michigan Savings Bank, 1903 (Currently there are 1.2 billion motor vehicles in the world and that number is expected to grow to 2 billion by 2040)
“Mark my words: a combination airplane and motorcar is coming. You may smile, but it will come.” – Henry Ford, 1940 (we’re still waiting although they’re in production)
Nuclear energy is unobtainable
“There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will.” – Albert Einstein, 1932
Cinema is a passing fad
“Cinema is little more than a passing fad.” – Charlie Chaplin, 1916
Television won’t last
“Television won’t last because people will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” – Darryl Zanuck, co-founder of 20th Century Fox, 1946 (The average American watches 5 hours of TV a day which works out to be 15 years/12% of your life, if you live to the average life expectancy of 78)
The Beatles have no future in show business
“The Beatles have no future in show business. We don’t like your boys’ sound. Groups are out. Four-piece groups with guitars, particularly, are finished.” – executives at Decca Records in 1962
There is a worldwide market for 5 computers
“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” – Thomas Watson, president of IBM, 1943
Online shopping will flop
“Remote shopping, while entirely feasible, will flop, because women like to get out of the house, like to handle the merchandise, like to be able to change their minds.” – Time Magazine, 1966 (E-commerce is currently a $2.3 Trillion dollar a year economy, and it is projected to grow to $4.88 trillion US dollars in 2021)
The internet will collapse
“I predict the internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.” – Robert Metcalfe, Founder of 3 Com, 1995 (two years later he was forced to eat his words during his keynote speech at the International World Wide Web Conference in 1997, when he took a printed copy of his column that predicted the collapse, put it in a blender with some liquid and then drank it)
The iPhone will fail
“There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.” — Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, 2007 (The iPhone is easily the world’s most popular smartphone and now owns at least 40% of the US market. Since it’s release in 2007, Apple has sold over 1.2 Billion iPhone’s making $100+ Billion in net profit)
Spam will be eliminated by 2006
“Two years from now, spam will be solved.” – Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, 2004 (By recent estimates, spam accounts for approximately 45% of all e-mail worldwide)
Children aren’t interested in witches and wizards anymore
“Children just aren’t interested in Witches and Wizards anymore.” – Anonymous publishing executive in a note to JK Rowling after she tried to get them to publish the Harry Potter series (The Harry Potter books have sold over 500 Million copies making JK Rowling the world’s first Billionaire author. The Harry Potter franchise is now worth over $15 Billion)
Everything has already been invented
“Everything that can be invented, has been invented.” Charles H. Duell, Commissioner of US patent office, 1899 (There are now at least 10 Million Patents in America alone and at least 300, 000 new patents issued each year)
Hillary Clinton will beat Donald Trump in a landslide
“Hillary Clinton will win by a landslide against Donald Trump. I expect her to win 46 states. I try to minimize election predictions—especially long before the voting on election day – but I consider this prediction one of the easiest I have ever made.” – Brent Budowsky, Observer.com, 2016 (Donald Trump wins easily)
No one can predict the future
Isn’t it obvious that no one knows what the future will bring?
- Flying cars – but not self-driving cars
- Jet packs – but not personal computers or the internet
- World War 3 – but not the lowest crime rate in history
- The biggest stock market crash in history – but not the highest Dow, S&P500, and NASDAQ of all time
- A one world government and a New World Order – but not Brexit and England leaving the European union
In fact, who predicted ANY of the following events in world history?
- The discovery of dinosaur bones
- The moon landing in 1969
- The discovery of 2 trillion galaxies (10X more than was previously thought)
- The inventions:
- The telephone
- The radio
- The TV
- The computer
- The internet
- Social media
- The disasters:
- The sinking of the Titanic
- World War 1
- World War 2
- The great depression
- The Chernobyl Disaster
- September 11th
- The political events:
- The breakup and fall of the USSR on Christmas day, December 25th, 1991
- The NSA spying on the entire world, 2013
- Brexit and the UK voting to leave the European union in 2016
- Donald Trump winning the American Presidency in 2016
- The stock market crashes:
- The stock market crash of 1929
- Black Monday 1987
- The NASDAQ tech crash of 1999
- The 2008 Global Financial Crisis
- The sporting upsets:
- James “Buster” Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson in Tokyo in 1989
- Matt Serra knocking out GSP at UFC 69 in 2007
- Leicester City winning the English Premier League title in 2015 at odds of 5000-1
- Ireland beating the All Blacks in 2016 for the first time ever in 111 years
The message is clear: No one can predict the future. Not Nostradamus. Not Edgar Cayce. Not Jeane Dixon. Not Baba Vanga. Not the Psychic Twins. No one. All the astrologers, clairvoyants and fortune tellers in the world combined can’t predict the future. There are simply too many variables and unknown-unknowns, to be able to pin it down.
I know there are thousands of liars, charlatans and delusional people who claim to be able to predict the future, and everything from 9/11 to the winning lottery numbers.
The fact is however, that you almost never hear about it until after the fact. It’s only then that some clairvoyant or psychic “knew it would happen” and “predicted it”. But you know what? They can never tell you anything of significance about the future right now, when it actually counts and could actually make a difference to your life.
How many clairvoyants living in New York stood outside the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and warned people of the terrorist attacks on the morning of September 11th 2001? Let me answer that question for you: ZERO. The exact same number that knew about the terrorist attacks in advance.
How many clairvoyants living in Las Vegas warned concert goers (or police) on October 1, 2017, that Stephen Paddock would open fire from his hotel room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel? The answer again is ZERO. The exact same number that knew about the shooting massacre in advance (same goes for the shooting massacres in Christchurch, Orlando, Sandy Hook, Paris, Kenya, Pakistan etc.)
If you’ve ever visited a clairvoyant or listen to one speak, you’ll notice that they’re intentionally ambiguous, vague and non-committal in their predictions. They speak in such a way that their words are unfalsifiable and could mean almost anything. That way they can later twist their words to mean anything they want them to mean.
Unfortunately most believers and supporters seem to turn a blind eye to this, and tend to have very selective memories only remembering the one or two things their favorite clairvoyant seemed to have guessed right, whilst simultaneously forgetting the thousands of things they got wrong.
“The root of all superstition is that men observe when a thing hits, but not when it misses.” – Francis Bacon
Let’s be honest: If an astrologer or clairvoyant could predict the future they wouldn’t waste their time giving you the winning lottery numbers. If you could predict next week’s winning lottery numbers would you give them away to a complete stranger for $100 or would you use that knowledge to buy the winning lottery tickets yourself?
“How come you never see a headline like ‘psychic wins lottery’?” – Jay Leno
If someone could predict the future they’d have the power to prevent mass shootings and terrorism, to warn of natural disasters and stock market crashes, and to bankrupt every bookmaker, casino and lottery on earth. They probably would have bought bitcoin at eight cents.
“I confess that in 1901 I said to my brother Orville that man would not fly for fifty years. Two years later we ourselves made flights. This demonstration of my impotence as a prophet gave me such a shock that ever since I have distrusted myself and avoided all predictions.” – Wilbur Wright, inventor of the airplane
If you watched a lot of 70’s and 80’s Sci-fi movies about the future e.g. Blade Runner, 1984 and The Terminator, the message was clear: the future was going to suck.
“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever.” –
But although people often fear the future, overall it keeps on getting better for one reason: Evolution.
…everything is constantly evolving, improving and getting better.
The best way to predict the future
“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” – Alan Kay
What will happen in the 21st century and beyond?
- Flying cars?
- Instant learning?
- Space elevators?
- Will we visit Mars and other planets?
The only thing that I know for sure is:
- No one can predict the future
- The only future we will have is the one we create for ourselves
- Whilst you can’t predict the future, you can certainly do a lot of things to make the future you want a lot more likely
“The future depends on what you do today” ― Mahatma Gandhi
Donald Trump image credit: Evan El-Amin / Shutterstock.com Dow Jones image credit: Fox news, YouTube Harry Potter books image credit: Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com Internet icons credit: solomon7 / Shutterstock.com iPhone image credit: mama_mia / Shutterstock.com Titanic image credit: Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com