Tuesday, November 15, 2011


1872:  "Louis Pasteur's theory of germs is ridiculous fiction." - Pierre Pachet, Psychology Professor, Toulouse University

1873:  "The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon." - British Surgeon-Extraordinary Sir John Eric Ericksen

1876:  "This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us." - Western Union officials via an internal memo

1895:  "Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible." - Lord Kelvin, president of the Royal Society

1943:  "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." - Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM

1949:  "Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons." - Popular Mechanics magazine

1957:  "I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won't last out the year." - Prentice Hall, Editor of Business Books

1977:  There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." - Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp.

1981:  "640K ought to be enough for anybody." - Bill Gates, Microsoft founder and CEO

Great Lakes Steamers, © James Vaughan

We've been laughably wrong over and over throughout history regarding technology and science.  Nothing illustrates this better than viewing the exponential growth in new technology since 1899, when the commissioner of the U.S. Office of Patents said, "Everything that can be invented has been invented."  My apologies to any of his decedents viewing this blog, but just wow!  Talk about short-sighted!  Last year alone, the United States issued 244,341 patent grants.  What's more, there has been a steady increase of patents, and considering the breakthroughs we see every day, it's not likely to peak any time soon.

Old Fashioned Telephone, © Lisa Stevens

Just in my lifetime, the growth in technology has been astounding.  I don't mean to make you feel old, dear reader, but it's likely you remember a time of rotary telephones, slide rules, and giant square televisions. And what the hell was the Internet back then? Now it's an inconvenience not to be able to take care of business, pay bills, and buy merchandise online.  In fact, the National Retail Federation projects consumers will conduct 36% of their holiday shopping this year online, up from 32.7% in 2010.  It's not hard to imagine that people who didn't even grow up with a computer in the house will soon conduct almost all of their commerce online.

TRS-80, Computer History Museum, © Marc Smith

Our children take for granted the constant technological innovation.  Even as the latest innovations roll out for sale, they nod and smile, and wonder when the next model is coming out.  And they're right in their complete and total numbness to the speed of progress.  After all, just a couple of years after you buy the shiniest, fastest computing machine on the market, it's already well on its way toward obsolescence.  In fact, wait a few years more, and it will be hard to find current programs that even run on it.

Android Phone, © Mark Lincoln

In 1991, 14.4K dial-up modems were the state-of-the-art way to connect to the Internet.  Twenty years later, if we don't have 4G capability with our little wallet-sized phones, we're behind the power curve.  My current phone has two hundred thousand times the memory of my first computer!  That isn't a typo.  Two hundred thousand times the memory capacity!

So how far into the future will we be able to look back and laugh at how impossible we thought time travel was?  How long will it be until we just send an object via the Internet to someone?  How long before we travel that way ourselves?  How about viewing a virtual overlay of augmented reality through our own unaided eyes?

Yep, the future's so bright, I gotta wear shades.


  1. Well said Jonathan - my first computer - Packard Hell 386SX-16 had a 20MB hard drive - I thought I was in heaven - who could use all that space :) Oh and a 2400baud modem - I ran a BBS on it

  2. I was laughing at some of the irony of those comments. If only they lived to see some of the advancements technology has brought us. I love this and it will definitely help me on the blog post I'm doing for thanksgiving on the inventions a writer should be thankful for.

  3. Doug - mine (my dad's actually) was similar. When we bought it, I asked if 40MB was enough, and much like the Bill Gates quote, was told point blank nobody was ever going to need more memory than that. Heh. I have far, far more than that used up in just word documents today.

    Lady - there is so much irony in those comments it's beyond surprising. I cut out a lot more I found that weren't really technology related. Bill Gates's comment is probably the most surprising, considering his tremendously visionary work. I personally think the byte-based memory paradigm will be a thing of the past very soon. I think in the future, we'll measure memory capacity by mass.

  4. I'm still using the Commodore 64 :D

    Peter Book