Historical howlers which are delightfully wrong in hindsight include:
1486 ‘So many centuries after the Creation it is unlikely that anyone could find hitherto unknown lands of any value.’ - The committee advising King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain regarding a proposal by Christopher Columbus.
1830 ‘Rail travel at high speeds is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.’ - Dionysius Lardner, Professor of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy at University College, London and author of The Steam Engine Explained and Illustrated.
1878 ‘The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.’ - Sir William Preece, Chief Engineer, British Post Office
1927 ‘Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?’ - H. M. Warner, Warner Brothers.
1932 ‘There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable.’ - Albert Einstein.
Variety magazine predicted in 1955 that rock’n’roll would be ‘all over by June’.
The great Victorian physicist Lord Kelvin was famous for his prodigious contribution to the advancement of science: notably for formulating the first and second laws of thermodynamics, helping pave the way for transatlantic cable communication and being the first to calculate the precise temperature for Absolute Zero and the mass of the Earth; but he achieved some notoriety in his later life for making some inaccurate predictions for the future of science.
How Kelvin got it wrong:
· In 1896 he refused an invitation to join the Aeronautical Society, writing that ‘I have not the smallest molecule of faith in aerial navigation other than ballooning or of expectation of good results from any of the trials we hear of.’
· In 1898, he predicted that there was only 400 years’ of oxygen supply left on the planet and that it would all be taken up by the burning of combustibles.
· He thought the sun was about 20 million years old (wrong by about 4.6 billion years) and that there were only about five or six million years of energy left in it (wrong by several billion years).
· Having calculated that the sun was only about 20 million years old, he came to the conclusion that there wasn’t enough time for Darwin’s evolution to work on its own without the guiding hand of ‘intelligent design’.
To be fair, whenever developments proved him wrong, Kelvin was always happy to stand corrected. He declared the announcement of the discovery of X-rays to be a hoax, but when he saw Röntgen's evidence, he accepted the idea and even had his own hand X-rayed.
The most famous misguided prediction attributed to Kelvin is: ‘There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement’, but there is no reliable evidence that he ever said it.
We don’t like their sound. Groups with guitars are on their way out.
In 1981 Microsoft founder Bill Gates declared that ‘640k ought to be enough for anybody’.
Practical Mechanics magazine predicted in 1949 that: ‘Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.’
In his book Physics of the Impossible Michio Kaku, Professor of Theoretical Physics at the City University of New York divides things that are currently thought to be impossible into three classes:
Next Christmas the iPod will be dead, finished, gone, kaput.
When Henry Morton, President of the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, pronounced that the new invention of the light bulb was ‘a conspicuous failure’, he wasn’t alone in his view. A British parliamentary committee in 1878 described the bulb as ‘good enough for our transatlantic friends … but unworthy of the attention of practical or scientific men’, and Sir William Siemens, the first President of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, remarked that ‘Such startling announcements as these should be deprecated as being unworthy of science and mischievous to its true progress.’