Future technology predictions...from the past
January 3, 2011
by Mark Ollig

I started typing this column focusing on predictions about the new high-tech devices we might see this year.

While yours truly was methodically punching the keys on the QWERTY board, an unexpected pause occurred.

Seeing the words appearing on the screen I shook my head and thought “Let’s take this first-of-the-year column in a different direction.”

“Alright, so what would be interesting? How about a look at ‘past future predications’ and see how those turned out,” I reasoned.

And with that as our new subject, we are off and running.

Lee De Forest, who invented the Audion vacuum tube in 1906, made this interesting prediction related to space travel in 1926 “To place a man in a multi-stage rocket and project him into the controlling gravitational field of the moon where the passengers can make scientific observations, perhaps land alive, and then return to earth – all that constitutes a wild dream worthy of Jules Verne. I am bold enough to say that such a man-made voyage will never occur, regardless of all future advances.”

In July 1969, the men of Apollo 11 accomplished this feat as described by De Forest.

It is also interesting to note that Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to travel into space April 12, 1961.

Lee De Forest would die a little more than two months later, June 30, 1961, at the age of 87.

De Forest did live long enough to have seen a man travel into space.

We find even popular national newspapers can miss with their predictions.

In 1936, the New York Times wrote “A rocket will never leave the Earth’s atmosphere.”

Just 10 years later, Oct. 24, 1946, one of Germany’s captured V2 missile rockets was launched by the US from New Mexico’s White Sands Missile Range. The missile was equipped with a 35-millimeter motion film picture camera and reached a height of 65 miles in three minutes.

The camera recorded the first views of the Earth ever seen from space.

The “flying camera” would take a new picture frame every second and a half as it ascended above the Earth’s atmosphere.

The missile and camera fell back and crashed into the Earth at 500 miles an hour.

The camera itself was destroyed, but the film inside was protected by a hardened steel case.

A Universal News film of this event was made and can be seen at tinyurl.com/26koynb.

During 1946, Darryl F. Zanuck, a movie producer and the studio executive who started 20th Century Films and then later bought out Fox Studios to become 20th Century Fox, said, “(Television) won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.”

Of course, we all know what became of that plywood box.

This week at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show, the very first 3D television is scheduled to be presented, which does not require those cumbersome 3D glasses to view it with.

Yes, faithful readers, the first “naked-eye” 3D television is about to be made public.

In 1943, IBM founder Thomas J. Watson Sr. was reported to have made this prediction, “I think there is a world market for, maybe, five computers.”

In checking the latest Gartner research figures, it is predicted during 2011, that 352.4 million personal computers will be sold.

If we include all tablet devices like the iPad and others, the total is estimated to be over 400 million computing devices.

Popular Mechanics magazine made this futuristic prediction in 1949, “Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.”

Recently, I checked and found today’s 11-inch MacBook Air computer weighs in at a fit and trim 2.3 pounds.

Time magazine wrote in 1966, “Remote shopping, while entirely feasible, will flop . . .”

Forrester Forecast, an independent research company, says approximately $173 billion will have been spent in 2010 in total online shopping sales in the US.

Your humble columnist (and telecommunications laborer) feels the need to include this 1961 prediction by FCC Commissioner T. Craven, “There is practically no chance communications space satellites will be used to provide better telephone, telegraph, television, or radio service inside the United States.”

April 6, 1965, the US launched Intelsat 1. It became the first commercial communications satellite to be placed in geosynchronous orbit over the Earth.

One prediction I will never forget was made the year I graduated from high school.

In 1977, the founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, Ken Olsen said, “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”

Make sure to check back with us next week, as we go over the exciting highlights from the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show taking place in Las Vegas this week.

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