The iPod? It's bound to fail (and the other predictions the experts would rather forget)

Sir Alan Sugar is not alone. Many of technology's greatest minds have been proved spectacularly wrong, as a new anthology of flawed futurology shows. By Amol Rajan and Andreas Wiseman
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The Independent Tech

X-rays: a certain hoax

Founded in 1660 by a brilliant coterie of English scientists, the Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge, to give it its full name, has long been in the vanguard of intellectual advancement. Its record is not without blemishes, however. In 1883, Lord Kelvin, its then president, said: "X-rays will prove to be a hoax." Instead, few inventions have done more to accelerate the progress of modern medicine.

The telephone, how unBritish

In 1878, Sir William Preece, the chief engineer of the Post Office, said: "The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys." But with nearly 80 million handsets in Britain alone – that's almost two per adult – we've never needed them more.

Television – boring

Televisions were first sold widely in the 1930s. So what came over Darryl Zanuck, multi-Oscar winning Hollywood mogul and founder of 20th Century Fox, when in 1946 he said people would "soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night". Alas, the X-Factor revolution was several decades off.

640KB of memory - all you need on a PC

Let's be fair to Bill Gates. He claims he was misreported when, in 1981, rumours circulated about his alleged view that nobody would need more than 640KB on their PCs. Most machines are sold with at least 2GB of memory, a mere 3,500 times the amount Gates allegedly predicted.

iPod: certain failure

Sir Alan Sugar, the Amstrad chief, has a reputation for straight talking. What, then, was he aiming for when he said, in an interview in February 2005: "Next Christmas, the iPod will be dead, finished, gone, kaput."

The media players, designed by Apple, are one of the technical sensations of the past decade, selling 174 million units worldwide.

The Boeing 247 – unbeatably big

In 1933, a Boeing 247 capable of holding 10 people took flight. One unnamed engineer proudly declared: "There will never be a bigger plane built." True, if you discount the 727, 737, 747, and hundreds of other carriers, commercial or military. Perhaps keeping his name secret was the brightest idea that engineer had.

Rocket mail

One can't claim ignorance about the advent of email to excuse the following prediction, made by United States postmaster general Arthur Summerfield, in 1959. "We stand on the threshold," he said, "of rocket mail". Just imagine: letters attached to horizontally aimed fireworks. What would you send?

Computers are not really for home use

Digital Equipment Corp, better known as DEC, has been a pioneer of the US computer industry. But what gripped its co-founder Ken Olsen when he argued, in 1977, that "there is no reason for any individual to have a computer at his home". More than a billion people now have home computers.

The end of spam

What Bill Gates can't deny is providing the following nugget of perspicacity to the 2004 World Economic Forum. "Two years from now," the father of modern information technology said, "spam will be solved". As anyone with an email account can testify, the avalanche shows no sign of receding.

Nuclear vacuum cleaning

Just over half a century ago, Alex Lewyt, erstwhile president of the Lewyt Corp vacuum company, made a prediction to The New York Times. "Nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners will probably be a reality within 10 years," he said. Not with Dyson around they won't.

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