Bad Predictions about the Future.

2Spare has assembled Top 87 Bad Predictions about the Future. To wit, on the computer category, are these bad predictions:

Where a calculator on the ENIAC is equipped with 18,000 vacuum tubes and weighs 30 tons, computers in the future may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and weigh only 1.5 tons.
- Popular Mechanics, March 1949.

There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.
- Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC), maker of big business mainframe computers, arguing against the PC in 1977.

I have traveled 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.

But what... is it good for?
- IBM executive Robert Lloyd, speaking in 1968 microprocessor, the heart of today’s computers.

Link (via The Presurfer)


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I expect that there are quite a few stories that predict an internet-like system. One quite well-known short story is 'The Machine Stops' by E.M. Forster published in 1909 and widely reprinted in science-fiction anthologies. It concerns a future Earth where everyone lives underground in cells and never meet except through the Machine where they discuss art, culture etc. Their entire life is essentially conducted on-line. It all depends how specific you want to define 'internet-like'. William Gibson is generally credited as being the first to write about the internet in the way we know it now, but he had probably already learned of it in its first military incarnation. There are probably other, less well-known instances stretching back to H G Wells. So, I think the whole thing is a bit of a myth.

I also read one time that no-one had predicted mobile phones in science fiction. That seems unlikely as well. The concept of using telephones that are portable must have occurred to writers at the dawning of radio. It seems inconceivable that no-one envisaged that kind of technology.
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Actually, the first mention of anything like the Internet in fiction occurred in 1946, in Murray Leinster's story, "A Logic Named Joe".

His terms were a little off, but pretty prophetic. "Information tanks", not servers. "Logics", not personal computers.

You can find a one page description here:

http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1270464

The story itself is freely available on the web at several sites, including Baen Book's Free Library at Baen.com

Ed Becerra
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John Brunner: The Shockwave Rider (1975)

I read it in high school (I think). It had this guy who went around writing "macrophages" to do damage to the world wide computer network. Obviously a hacker writing viruses to attack the web.

Never heard of such a thing!
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I think the earliest sci-fi featuring an internet-like entity is Neuromancer by William Gibson (1984).

Wikipedia has a neat list of fictional computers mentioned science-fiction novels.

While we're at it, check out Wikipedia's list of failed predictions.
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Ah, the bad computer predictions! The rejection slips of the computer world. The great classics of world literature all got lots of rejections before someone decided to publish them, and the same thing happened to the computer. It all goes to show just how difficult it is to actually see the future, what plans will work and what will not.

The microprocessor was developed in 1968; early that year the "Star Trek" episode "The Ultimate Computer" aired, featuring the Mark 7, a supercomputer the size of a small steamer trunk that apparently could be rolled about by hand. Quite a bit smaller and more manageable than a Cray, which was the Rolls Royce of supercomputers into the late 1980s at least. (I imagine they're smaller now, but I haven't checked.) So the idea of computers becoming smaller was certainly in place by then. How much smaller, though, was harder to predict, since microcircuitry engraving techniques have improved since then, rendering microprocessors even smaller.

One thing I find fascinating (the Spock reference was unintentional) is that I have not yet read or heard of a science-fiction story from before the late 1980s that makes any mention of an Internet or World-Wide Web. The Internet has been around since the 1960s, when computers were still the domain of scientists and the military. (I still remember, in the late 1970s, my Dad having a bulky, monitor-less computer terminal delivered to our house from work after he broke his knees. He took our kitchen phone off the hook, stuck it onto two rubber cups sticking out of the terminal, and it communicated with another computer over the telephone lines --- the Internet!) It wasn't until after PCs and Macs entered the home that the Internet and the Web entered science-fiction. A "futuristic" communication system that has actually become part of our lives, and it managed to avoid mention in visions of the future until it was already here and "commonplace." Whenever a fellow sci-fi writer gripes about trying to write about the future and make accurate predictions, I cite this example and tell him or her not to worry.

If anyone knows of a sci-fi story from before the late 1980s that DOES mention the Internet or Web, even by a different name, I'd love to hear about it. And if anyone finds such a story from before the 1960s, I'd REALLY love to hear about it!
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