Dan Kaplan closes this special issue with lame predictions from the past 20 years by some big names.
We all have said things that we later regretted. Like the time I told a woman to take my seat on the subway because I thought she looked pregnant. Of course, that does not mean the rest of us can’t take pleasure in someone else’s oral misery. So here are five IT prediction quotes from the last 20 years, made unforgettable only by how epically inaccurate they turned out to be.
The year: 1988
The person: Peter Norton, founder of Peter Norton Computing, later sold to Symantec, on viruses.
The quote: “We’re dealing with an urban myth. It’s like the story of alligators in the sewers of New York. Everyone knows about them, but no one’s ever seen them.”
What was he thinking? This one confuses me. After all, isn’t Peter Norton the namesake behind Symantec’s wildly successful family of anti-virus solutions? I have to believe Norton was confident in his prognostication at the time. Then, once realizing his woeful forecast, he did what any smart entrepreneur would: He forgot he said anything in the first place and turned his initial blunder into boatloads of cash.
The year: 1995
The person: Robert Metcalfe, founder of 3Com, on the future of the web.
The quote: “Almost all of the many predictions now being made about 1996 hinge on the internet’s continuing exponential growth. But I predict the internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.”
What was he thinking? I don’t know about Metcalfe, but here’s what I did so far today: Read a story on CNN, bought sneakers on Zappos, updated my Facebook status – twice, sent out a tweet, logged into Gmail, adjusted my fantasy football team’s roster and googled: “What was Robert Metcalfe thinking when he said the internet was going to soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse?” Yep, I think we’re ready to declare the internet a success. Or maybe we should hold off one more year, you know, just to be safe.
The year: 1997
The person: Nathan Myhrvold, former Microsoft CTO
The quote: “Apple is already dead.”
What was he thinking? I’ll chalk this one up to good, old-fashioned hating on the competition. I mean, surely Myhrvold could not have anticipated that the minds in Cupertino would invent a 4.9-ounce portable media device that could store 160 gigabytes of music easily downloadable from the internet. Not when CDs were ruling the world. So, I’ll let it slide (we won’t even get into the iPhone). Of course, Steve Jobs and company probably could appreciate Myhrvold’s chutzpah. After all, isn’t Apple the same computer-maker that proudly proclaims its Mac OS X immune to malware? Riiight.
The year: 2004
The person: Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, on spam:
The quote: “Two years from now, the spam problem will be solved.”
What was he thinking? Most computer security enthusiasts love to call Gates out on this one, but I’m not so sure it’s as cut-and-dry as people think. Yes, spam hasn’t gone away. Depending on which study you reference, junk mail remains a huge web congestion, making up about 90 percent of all email and costing companies tens of billions of dollars to battle. But can’t we agree that the amount of spam that actually ends up in our inboxes is a lot less than it was five years ago? I’ve used Gmail for two years, and in that time, I can probably count on my fingers the number of times I’ve received an unsolicited message. Great, I probably just jinxed myself.
The year: 2009
The person: Holly Stewart, IBM X-Force researcher
The quote: “It seems phishing – quote-unquote – is getting better.”
What was she thinking? I won’t dare challenge the brilliance of the IBM ISS research team. I’m just a guy who writes about this stuff and occasionally has difficulty turning on the computer. And I’m certainly not questioning the analysis on which Stewart and her colleagues based this declaration. Still, on hearing this, one had to scratch their head, considering the sheer profitability and easy entry into an organization that phishing provides its orchestrators. Many vendors immediately jumped at the bit to challenge IBM ISS on this finding. Not long after, Stewart and a fellow researcher wrote a blog post titled, “Yes, phishing is back,” after noticing a huge rise in the third quarter of this year. Even I could’ve predicted that.
Dan Kaplan is a senior reporter at SC Magazine.