Audience Dialogue

Hopelessly wrong predictions

Following from the page of quotations about the future, here are some predictions that didn't quite turn out as expected. It's interesting to consider why they went wrong.

Our hindsight makes these predictions seem ridiculous. How could they have been so wrong? But consider for a moment how these badly-wrong predictions came to be here. Did I read thousands of pages of old publications, every now and again finding a grossly inaccurate prediction? No: I half-remembered a few of them, and did a web search, which led to a few books, which led to all the rest. There may have been millions of correct predictions.

These wrong ones are of two types: either they predicted that something would be a miserable flop when it was obviously destined for success, or else they predicted that something would really take off - and it didn't. Interestingly, there are a lot more of the former type than the latter, even though there's a wealth of evidence that around 80% of innovations fail. So why don't we see more recollections of predictions such as "the kaspelburger will be the greatest innovation of the 20th century"? Simple reason: because nobody now remembers what a kaspelburger was. So a wrong prediction wouldn't be funny - just boring. Isn't hindsight marvellous?

Your task for tomorrow: make a prediction that will cause people to roar with laughter in 2025, because it will be so ridiculously wrong. This should be easy, because with an 80% failure rate, it's four times more likely that a prediction will be wrong than that it will be right.

Links to more predictions

The past and future - what they said and what they are saying - about 20 more quotes such as the above.

A selection of quotations mostly related to space travel and modern technology, at www.permanent.com.

I predict that... is a collection of historical gaffes - such as "The problem with television is that the people must sit and keep their eyes glued on a screen: the average American family hasn't time for it." - The New York Times, 1939, reviewing a demonstration of TV.

Many of the above quotes (and a lot more) can be found in the book The Experts Speak: the Definitive Compendium of Authoritative Misinformation by Christopher Cerf and Victor Navasky, 1984. Beyond the Library of the Future by Bruce A Shuman (1997) has a lot, too.

On a grander scale is another book, The History of the End of the World, produced in 1982 by Yuri Rubinsky and Ian Wiseman. It shows that for thousands of years, people have kept predicting the end of the world. They are so persistent: it didn't happen yesterday, but there's still hope for next week. The interesting question to me is why so many people expect (even want) the world to end. But keep trying, prophets: some day you'll get it right!

Some quotable quotes for statistics by JEH Shaw. Some! About 2000 of them, including a few about the future. This is a 140-page PDF file - so amusing that you can't stop reading it. Who said statistics was boring?

On this site:
Links to the future: organizations, publications, and websites
Quotations about the future - except predictions
Glossary of 100-odd terms used in futures studies