It’s difficult to predict which technological innovations consumers will adopt into the fabric of their everyday lives. Those working closely with technology can get a better glimpse of how much impact the novelties of tomorrow will have but that goes without saying that technology has a mind of its own. Not even these so-called experts were able to accurate guess the direction of rather new developments. Their iterations prove that when it comes to divining the future of technology, it’s best to hold high expectations and be remembered as optimistic, rather than risking underestimating a technology and risk appearing foolish.
Bill Gates, the richest man on Earth and founder of Microsoft, set the record straight denying allegations stating “I’ve said some stupid things and some wrong things, but not that. No one involved in computers would ever say that a certain amount of memory is enough for all time.” Though the misquote can’t be traced back to Bill Gates, he did share his auspicious hopes that “Two years from now, spam will be solved”.
Thomas Watson, IBM Chairman, known as “the world’s greatest salesman” can be credited for single-handedly building IBM into a juggernaut company. At first glance, the statement appears like a lapse in judgment. But taking into account that the first computers weighed approximately 30 tons and spanned up to 3 stories high, Thomas Watson’s 1943 calculation remained true for at least a decade before computers began to become smaller and more powerful.
The actual quote from Popular Mechanics reads: “Where a calculator like ENIAC [the first computer] today is equipped with 18,000 vacuum tubes and weighs 30 tons, computers in the future may have only 1000 vacuum tubes and perhaps weigh only 1½ tons”. At the time, a computer that weighed 1.5 tons was unheard of and the quote captures Popular Mechanics’ optimism about future improvements in computer technology. Unfortunately, the magazine’s foresight was cut short. Today’s mobile smart devices only weigh a fraction of a pound. But in 1949, even a 1.5 ton computer stretched people’s imagination.
Ken Olsen, a computer industry legacy that paved the way for what would later become the personal computer, has admitted to making the remark but argues that it has been taken out of context and that he was referring to mainframe computers. It’s precisely his background with mainframe computers and his past with creating flight simulators for the US Navy that might have led him to underestimate the utility of personal computers.
Robert Metcalfe, credited as the inventor of Ethernet and founder of 3Com, wrote an article for PC Magazine in 1995 and gave the internet a one year expiration date. To be fair, back in 1995, the internet was still a rather novel, bleeding edge technology. But Robert Metcalfe expressed such confidence in his statement that he promised to eat his words if his forecast did not come true. And he did. In 1997, Robert Metcalfe delivered on his promise and blended a copy of his column an proceeded to eat “the cloudy, pulpy substance with a spoon before slurping down the bowl’s contents” before a crowd of 1,000 people.
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