When technology predictions fail

By now, we’re all used to hearing people like Bill Gates of Microsoft or Larry Page of Google make startling predictions about what the future of technology and Internet is going to look like. And since these are the people on top of the world tech pyramid, we are usually fairly certain that these visions are to undoubtedly come true. However, powerful as they may be, in the end, tech companies are nothing more than the providers of the services that we, the users, desire and require. This means that, ultimately, we are really the ones determining what the future of the tech industry holds, and companies like Google and Microsoft are there simply to make sure our wishes and requests are honored. This is why, every once in a while, these tech giants make stunning predictions about the evolution of technology: predictions which end up being, well, stunningly wrong. Predictions like:

In 1943, Thomas Watson, president of IBM, said he thinks there is a world market for maybe five computers. Yes, that IBM, and yes, five computers. Now, granted, this was well before the PC industry really took off, putting a computer in almost every home in the US in the next 50 years, and by the term ‘computer’, Watson probably meant an oversized machine, as big as a truck, powered by a set of vacuum tubes. Still, when you’re entirely wrong, you’re entirely wrong. IBM is still very much in business though, so one can suspect that they’ve had a change of heart at some point.

Back in 1997, Nathan Myhrvold, who was a Microsoft CTO at a time, was reported as saying: ’Apple is already dead’. Now, there are obviously some corporate jedi mind tricks going on here, and Myhrvold was definitely not alone in thinking Apple has hit the end of the road, following several pretty big blunders from the tech giant. Still, it is amazing to see how the tables have turned, so much so that if Tim Cook of Apple now said something similar about Microsoft, many would possibly agree.

And finally, in one of the biggest failed predictions about the Web to date, in 2004, Bill Gates said that two years from now (so, 2006) spam will be solved. Anyone who has ever used the Internet can pretty much guess how accurate this prediction turned out to be. Contemporary reports claim that spam now comprises about 92% of all e-mails on the Web worldwide, so in the end, Gates does seem to have been a bit off.

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