"Prophecy is the most gratuitous form of error."
George Eliot (1819-1880)
"The Internet will no doubt be heralded as one of mankind's greatest achievements. We now download music, stream videos and surf Wikipedia without so much as a second thought. Thanks to iPads, eBooks and smart phones we've quickly grown accustomed to having knowledge, news and entertainment accessible wherever we are and whenever we want it - so much so that we often wonder what we'd do without it.
But consider that we live in a time where the Internet is in its infancy, and it took us 160,000 years to invent it. You have to wonder how some saw it coming long before the world got connected? Here we explore some visionaries who were way ahead of their time in predicting such technological marvels...
Sci-Fi master Isaac Asimov predicted eBooks in "The Fun They Had" (1951): "'Gee,' said Tommy. 'What a waste. When you're through with the book, you just throw it away... Our television screen must have had a million books on it and it's good for plenty more. I wouldn't throw it away.'"
Jules Verne prophesied eBooks in "Paris in the Twentieth Century" (1863): "Michel searched for literature... but nothing but technology was available in bookstores." (Interestingly, Verne locked the original manuscript in a safe after his editor scorned it and the novel wasn't discovered until 1994. The editor claimed the book was too fantastical, writing "No-one today will believe your prophecy". The novel also predicted gasoline-powered vehicles, pocket calculators and a 'worldwide telegraphic communications network'.)
Arthur C Clarke predicted iPads in the iconic "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968): "When he tired of official reports and memoranda and minutes, he would plug in his foolscap-size newspad into the ship's information circuit and scan the latest reports from Earth. One by one he would conjure up the world's major electronic papers"
HG Wells predicted iPhone technology in "When the Sleeper Wakes" (1910): "He became aware of voices and music, and noticed a play of color on the smooth front face. He suddenly realized what this might be, and stepped back to regard it. On the flat surface was now a little picture, very vividly colored, and in this picture were figures that moved. Not only did they move, but they were conversing in clear small voices. It was exactly like reality viewed through an inverted opera glass and heard through a long tube."
Nikola Tesla prophesied a device eerily similar to the BlackBerry in an issue of "Popular Mechanics" magazine (1909): "An inexpensive instrument, not bigger than a watch, will enable its bearer to hear anywhere, on sea or land, music or song... it will be possible for a business man in New York to dictate instructions, and have them instantly appear in type at his office in London or elsewhere."
Murray Leinster accurately predicted the future of computers and the Internet in "A Logic Named Joe" (1946): "You know the Logic's set-up. You got a Logic in your house. It looks like a vision-receiver used to, only it's got keys instead of dials and you punch the keys for what you wanna get... you punch "Sally Hancock's Phone" an' the screen blinks an' sputters an' you're hooked up with the Logic in her house an' if someone answers you got a vision-phone connection." "The Tank is a big buildin' full of all the facts in creation and all the recorded telecasts that ever was made - an' it's hooked in with all the other Tanks all over the country - an' everything you wanna know or see or hear, you punch for it an' you get it."
- Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943
- William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, British scientist, 1899
- Sir Harold Spencer Jones, Astronomer Royal of the UK, 1957
- Ken Olson, president of Digital Equipment Corp in 1977
- Charlie Chaplin, 1916
- Mary Somerville, radio broadcaster, 1948
- Alex Lewyt, president of vacuum cleaner company Lewyt Corp, 1955
- T. Craven, FCC Commissioner, 1961