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Reasons to Keep an Open Mind

Last Modified On: January 16, 2001

If you ever needed reasons to keep an open mind, the following pronouncements by the experts should be enough to convince you that no one can predict the future:

"Computers in the future may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and perhaps weigh only 1 1/2 tons."
--Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, March 1949

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

"I have travelled 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."
--The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957

"What the hell is it good for?"
--Robert Lloyd, engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, about 1968, commenting on the microprocessor.

"There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home."
--Ken Olson, president, chairman, and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977

"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 internal memo, 1876 (not verified by Cerf and Navasky).

"Well-informed people know it is impossible to transmit the voice over wires and that were it possible to do so, the thing would be of no practical value."
--Editorial in the Boston Post, 1865.

"The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?"
--David Sarnoff's associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s (not verified by Cerf and Navasky).

"The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a 'C,' the idea must be feasible."
--A Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith's paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp (not verified by Cerf and Navasky).

"Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?"
--Harry M. Warner, president of Warner Brothers Pictures, about 1927.

"Gone With the Wind is going to be the biggest flop in Hollywood history. I'm just glad it'll be Clark Gable who's falling on his face and not Gary Cooper."
—Gary Cooper commenting on Clark Gable's acceptance of the role of Rhett Butler after Cooper had turned it down, 1938.

"A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research reports say America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you make."
--Response to Debbi Fields' idea of starting Mrs. Fields' Cookies (not verified by Cerf and Navasky).

"We don't like their sound. Groups of guitars are on the way out."
--Decca Recording Company executive rejecting the Beatles, 1962.

"There is not the slightest indication that [nuclear] energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will."
--Albert Einstein, 1932.

"Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible."
--Lord Kelvin, British mathemetician, physicist, and president of the British Royal Society, about 1895.

"Professor Goddard...does not know the relation of action and reaction, and the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react".
--1921 New York Times editorial about Robert Goddard's revolutionary rocket work.

"Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau."
--Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929.

"[Airplanes] are interesting toys, but of no military value."
--Maréchal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Supérieure de Guerre, 1911.

"Everything that can be invented has been invented."
--Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, US Office of Patents, 1899.

"Louis Pasteur's theory of germs is ridiculous fiction."
--Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872 (not verified in Cerf and Navasky).

"The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon."
--Sir John Eric Ericksen, British surgeon, later appointed Surgeon-Extraordinary to Queen Victoria, 1837.

"640K ought to be enough for anybody."
—Attributed to Bill Gates, 1981.

Source: This page is made possible thanks to a newsgroup message from Mark Shaughnessy. Thanks also to a citation in Steven Pinker's wonderful new book How the Mind Works (W.W. Norton & Company, 1997, 660 pages), I found what was probably Mark's original source: Christopher Cerf and Victor Navasky's The Experts Speak: The Definitive Compendium of Authoritative Misinformation (Pantheon Books, 1984, 391 pages). I have checked all of Mark's quotations against Cerf and Navasky and corrected them where necessary. The same authors came out with an expanded and updated edition of The Experts Speak in 1998 (Villard, 445 pages). Thanks for the complementary copy, Chris!

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