We usually think of scientists and mathematicians as pure geniuses. Industry experts are paid to know the market, so their predictions should surely be somewhat reliable. If not them, surely we can trust a Nobel Prize winning physicist?
You may believe that it’s only the ignorant masses that could doubt inventions like the television or radio, but you’re about to be pleasantly surprised. It turns out that even geniuses make mistakes. So breathe a sigh of relief the next time you’re wrong about something.
From doubting the viability of the personal computer to calling television complete impossibility, experts throughout history have made some major errors when it comes to breakthrough inventions. Whether through a disturbing lack of foresight or simply a stubborn unwillingness to work with the future, brilliant minds have been completely blind to some of the possibilities of some of the major inventions we have ever seen.
The following inventions have been ridiculously successful for a number of years and they will undoubtedly continue to form an integral part of modern life. They have sold millions (if not billions) of products, are used in everyone’s day-to-day life, and it is simply unthinkable to be without them. It’s unbelievable to think that Nobel Prize winners, successful military generals, and proven industry professionals all doubted the viability of these products.
Some of them make the modern world possible, without which things, life would look very differently. If some of their inventors had listened to feedback, we’d be without some of the most useful developments we have ever seen in science, computing and travel.
10. Online Shopping
Imagine having to go back to the days when you had to do your Christmas shopping on the high street. Not a pretty thought, is it? In 1966, Time Magazine ‘futurists’ predicted that even if it turned out to be feasible, remote shopping would end up being a complete failure.
The idea behind the theory is that experts believed that people want to touch and feel a product before paying for it. In addition, they did not take into account that shipping speeds would dramatically improve over time. In fact, this was one of the major objections of the time. Experts did not deem it feasible that products could be shipped across the United States in just a single day.
Try telling FedEx that. They currently report annual revenue figures nearing the $10 billion mark. We’re sure plenty of this comes from online shopping orders!
9. Post-It Notes
Despite seeming ridiculously simple, the adhesive that makes Post-It notes so successful was seen as a scientific impossibility prior to its invention.
Spencer Silver, the inventor of the Post-It note, even admitted that if he’d given it proper thought, he wouldn’t even have started the experiments that led to his breakthrough discovery. Scientific journals all over declared that it simply could not be done.
The ‘magic’ behind the invention was getting the adhesive sticky enough to attach to something, but not so strong to actually damage anything. Until Silver’s success, no one managed to make it work.
Even after he had his ‘eureka!’ moment, however, he still faced plenty of problems. The 3M’s marketing department didn’t believe in the project, thinking that scrap paper fulfilled the role already.
Fast-forward 30 years and you’ll find Post-It Notes everywhere; they’re sold in over 100 countries, 25 different sizes and 62 colors.
8. The Apple iPad
Despite being heavily hyped and coming off the back of Apple’s huge successes through the iMac and iPod (amongst other wildly successful products), experts believed that the iPad would be a huge commercial disappointment.
Not a smartphone or a computer, critics believed that the product just didn’t have a viable market. Research giants Simpson Carpenter even stated, “there isn’t a compelling incentive to get mainstream consumers to buy it”.
How wrong they all were. The iPad was a resounding success and is largely responsible for the popularity of tablet devices. In just 18 months the Apple product sold over 30 million units. By the end of 2011, the market was worth a staggering $50 billion.
7. The Electric Light bulb
There aren’t many people out there that have not heard of Thomas Edison. Responsible for a wide range of inventions, he had an astonishing 1,093 patents. Perhaps what he’s most known for, however, is the first commercially viable light bulb.
You would think that people would have rejoiced at the announcement of the invention, but most people were relatively aloof about the current mainstay of modern living.
In fact, most major names in the scientific community just could not imagine why it would ever work. Henry Morton, president of the Stevens Institute of Technology, even called Edison’s invention a “conspicuous failure” in 1880.
6. The Telephone
If you’d taken the experts’ advice, we would still be sending telegrams and using smoke signals. Even after its successful demonstration in 1876, critics slammed the idea and thought it would never work.
Sir William Preece, chief engineer of the British Post Office, declared in 1878 “we have plenty of messenger boys”. Western Union, the leading telegram company of the late 19th century, was so unconcerned by the device that it was given little to no notice. They felt it had no inherent value.
We wonder what these so-called experts would say if they saw millions of people walking across the street holding hand-held mobiles. Would they still choose to send messenger boys?
It’s incredible to think that the invention of the airplane was met with relatively little fanfare. Military experts were particularly scathing, with Ferdinand Foch (French military expert), declaring it a toy and of “no military value”.
Airplanes weren’t even used to their potential in the first technological war. The First World War saw the airplane mainly used as a reconnaissance unit, especially in the early stages. Twenty years later, they would become an integral part of military strategy. The airplane was largely responsible for creating what is now known as ‘total war’.
Not only did the airplane become a mainstay of military activity, it has also changed the way we travel and transport goods. Imagine if we still had to rely on cargo ships or commercial cruise liners. The world would certainly move a little slower.
Yes, even the marvel that is the television was once doubted and seen as a curiosity that would never reach true commercial success. Interestingly, it was even shunned by inventors who themselves had worked on products and devices that had been doubted by experts of their day.
Lee DeForest, radio pioneer and inventor of the vacuum tube, was one of these doubters. He called it an ‘impossibility’ and “a development of which we need waste little time dreaming”. We’ve rarely seen a statement be more wrong.
The United States has 220 million televisions and they have been hugely popular ever since they were released on the open market. We can’t see this trend taking a downswing turn, considering the amazing developments we have seen in the past couple of years.
3. The Automobile
The ‘horseless carriage’, as it was called in the early days, was never seen as a serious challenge for the bicycle. Even the experts that had confidence in the car didn’t see it as anything more than a luxury item.
Nowadays, you can’t really live a modern life without access to a car or another form of motorized transportation. In 2005 alone, 53 million cars were released into the world and these figures continue to rise.
It’s funny to think that we’re currently trying to downgrade our use of the automobile for environmental and cost reasons, as the popularity of the car shows no real signs of slowing down. We wonder what individuals of the 19th century would say to that.
2. Personal Computer
There is hardly a home without a computer of some kind. Whether it’s an iPad, laptop or traditional desktop, it’s almost impossible to imagine life without one of these machines.
Back in the 1940’s, you would have been called a complete lunatic had you predicted what’s currently possible. In 1949 John von Neumann, a respected mathematician, declared that the limits of the computer had been reached. Remember that back then computers used to take up entire rooms.
In 1977, Ken Olson (founder of DEC) openly wondered why people would ever want a personal computer in their homes. So even once science achieved what people never thought possible, experts still turned a cold shoulder at the computer’s potential.
1. Data Transmission
The instant transmission of data was thought completely impossible in the practical world. Dennis Gabor, a Nobel Prize winning physicist in 1962 declared that “it will never become a practical proposition”.
Problems were seen in cost, complexity and practical application. Most scientists simply didn’t see data transmission as a viable reality.
Initial developments did not exactly prove the experts wrong. The first commercial modem, despite being a breakthrough in data transmission technology, could only transmit data at 300 bits per second. This was far too slow for widespread application.
Imagine today’s world without the instant movement of data. What does that mean? No Internet. Fortunately, that initial modem was the springboard for successive developments of data transmission, resulting in what makes the modern world tick.
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