While no-one knows what the future holds, these predictions were comically off base.
1. Y2K. In the years leading up to Year 2000, a computer bug related to the formatting and storage of calendar data occupied a huge amount of air time on TV, in magazines and newspapers and books. The problem arose because many applications required two digit dates instead of four (so 98 instead of 1998, for instance.) Pundits and pontificators were convinced that once the calendar shifted from 1999 to 2000, every digital system on earth was going to fail because it wouldn’t understand how to read “00”. Airplanes would drop from the sky. Nuclear arsenals would launch. Computers would not work. As December 31, 1999 crept ever closer, the hysteria grew. When year 2000 arrived… nothing happened. Nothing at all. No systems failed. No planes crashed due to the so- called bug. No nuclear arsenals launched. The whole shebang was a giant, ridiculous nothing.
2. Hillary Clinton was definitely going to win the 2016 election. After years of biding her time in various government positions, and having the 2008 nomination snatched away by the charismatic Barack Obama, 2016 was finally Hillary’s year. The environment could not have been better: the Republican candidate was a reality TV clown. Every poll put her miles ahead of Trump. On Election Day, the New York Times gave her a 92% chance of winning. As the polling places began to close, however, the chances began to decline. She began to lose crucial states. And when the election was called for Donald J Trump, nobody was more surprised than Hillary Clinton.
3. OJ Simpson would definitely be found guilty of murder. When his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman were murdered on June 12, 1994, the evidence of OJ Simpson’s guilt was overwhelming. He had a long history of domestic violence. A blood trail led from her home to OJ’s. And his behavior was flat-out crazy. TV pundits assured us his conviction was a slam dunk. All of America watched the trial on Court TV and nobody was expecting that acquittal.
4. “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” This quote was uttered in 1977 by Ken Olsen, founder and president of Digital Equipment Corporation. Olsen himself had a personal computer at home, but could not imagine why anyone else would want one, much less that it would become the spine of the economy, and that more than 90% of American homes would have at least one internet connected device in their homes by 2017. So… bad prediction.
5. The USA was going to collapse in 2010. For a whole summer in 1998, Russian political writer Igor Panarin got a flurry of fame for claiming the US was on the verge of civil war, which would lead to wealthier states withholding tax revenue from the federal government and seceding from the union. It would lead to a collapse of the country in 2010. Panarin said the country would be divided up into six sectors, with parts going to apan, Canada, Mexico and even the European Union. While the USA has experienced a lot of political strife since 2001, there has never been any serious discussion of secession. And seriously, can you imagine New York being part of Europe?
6. Rocket Mail. In 1959 Arthur Summerfield, US Postmaster General, made a bold prediction. “Before man reaches the moonyour mail will be delivered within hours from New York to Australia by guided missiles. We stand on the threshold of rocket mail.” Summerfield wasn’t just whistling dixie. That same year, the US Post Office tested “Missle Mail” for the first time. A rocket was launched from the submarine Barbero off the coast of Florida to a naval base in Mayport. The trip lasted 22 minutes, and the two mail parcels were delivered successfully. Despite the success, the project was never implemented. It took the arrival of Amazon for delivery to get reliable and fast.
7. In 1970, on the first Earth Day, Harvard biologist George Wald estimated that “civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.” While civilization certainly isn’t perfect, it isn’t quite Blade Runner. So this was a wrong prediction.
8. “Television won’t last because people will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” Daryl Zanuck, a movie producer at 20th Century Fox, uttered those words in 1946, well before Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones were even a twinkle in their producers’ eye. We are now living in a golden age of TV. Amazon spent $6 billion creating original content last year; Netflix spent $9 billion. All that investment is keeping people glued to their TV.
9. “And for the tourist who really wants to get away from it all, safaris in Vietnam.” Newsweek predicted safaris in Vietnam would be a popular holiday in the late 1960s. I guess they didn’t see that one coming.
10. In 1893, an English scientist asked Hiram Maxim, inventor of the machine gun, “Will this gun not make war more terrible?” Maxim replied, “No, it will make war impossible.”