Saturday December 26, 2009

Some Unpredictable Predicaments
by Courtland Shakespeare

Following a personal demonstration of the telephone in March of 1876, U.S. President Rutherford Hayes said, “It’s a great invention, but who would want to use it?” Mr. Hayes went on to have a phone installed in the White House. He was the first president to have one at his disposal.

Today, our legislators have been forced to impose laws to try to prevent people from texting and dialing and using their phones while driving. It’s still OK to drink coffee, eat pizza and use chopsticks while driving, but it’s not a good idea to engage in all those activities at the same time even if you’re a passenger.

The point is, however, the very people who should have seen the potential in new inventions and innovative technology have often been the very ones who dismissed it. If we take a look at some of the predictions from the past, we may reveal some evidence of the astounding absurdity of how wrong experts have really been.

In 1899, an official at the US Patent Office by the name of Charles H. Duell said, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” One hopes Mr. Duell retired shortly after saying that in public.

In 1903, Henry Ford’s lawyer paid a visit to the president of the Michigan Savings Bank to ask advice about investing in the Ford Motor Company. He was told, “The automobile is only a novelty - a fad.” It would be the telephone that would turn the whole predicament around and make the car useful for remote business meetings and appointment scheduling.

Movie moguls have shown great discernment and insight regarding the future of entertainment. In 1946, Darryl F. Zanuck said television “won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” They should have tried putting one into an automobile from the very beginning. Why not? They put televisions in airplanes.

In 1895, Lord Kelvin, president of the British Royal Society (who was a mathematician and physicist) said, “Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” Obviously, he must have been acquainted with a Cambridge aeronautics professor who told Frank Whittle his idea would never fly - Sir Frank is considered the father of jet propulsion.

In 1977, while arguing against the future of the personal computer, the president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), Ken Olson, said, “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM, certainly must have inspired him back in 1943 when he predicted “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

Personally, I am still waiting for anti-gravity platforms, personal robots, rocket ships and a summer cottage on Saturn. I would like Mississauga to be protected by a gigantic dome incorporating a virtual weather machine that makes it rain at night when we are asleep and keeps it warm and sunny every day all year round. I would also like an "autonomous" auto-pilot car that flies, has a built in HD display system, studio quality audio, multiplexed integrated network communication channel, plus fridge, microwave, food processor, blender, toaster oven and coffee maker.

I would also like to predict you have a very Happy New Year and don’t take any advice from anyone – especially experts.