A Short History of Smart People Being Wrong

I've been following the discussion on several sites about whether or not an actual warp drive is possible. Many commentators seem skeptical, but that got me to thinking about all the things that used to be impossible (or at least unimaginable) and I stumbled across this list of people, many prominent and revered, being horrifically wrong.

For example:
"Inventions have long since reached their limit, and I see no hope for
future improvements."
-- Julius Frontenus, 10 A.D.

"Everything that can be invented has been invented."
-- Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899

"I can accept the theory of relativity as little as I can accept the
existence of atoms and other such dogmas."
-- Ernst Mach (1838-1916)

"X-rays will prove to be a hoax."
-- Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895

"While theoretically and technically television may be feasible,
commercially and financially I consider it an impossibility, a development
of which we need waste little time dreaming."
-- Lee De Forest, 1926

"The ordinary 'horseless carriage' is at present a luxury for the wealthy;
and although its price will probably fall in the future, it will never, of
course, come into as common use as the bicycle."
-- Literary Digest, 1899

"Flight by machines heavier than air is impractical and insignificant, if
not utterly impossible."
-- Simon Newcomb, Director, U.S. Naval Observatory, 1902

"As far as sinking a ship with a bomb is concerned, you just can't do it."
-- Rear Admiral Clark Woodward, 1939

"There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will be
-- Albert Einstein, 1932

"I must confess that my imagination, in spite even of spurring, refuses to
see any sort of submarine doing anything but suffocating its crew and
foundering at sea."
-- H. G. Wells, 1901

"People give ear to an upstart astrologer [Copernicus]...this fool wishes
to reverse the entire science of astronomy"
-- Martin Luther

"Fooling around with alternating currents is just a waste of time. Nobody
will use it, ever. It's too dangerous. . . it could kill a man as quick
as a bolt of lightning. Direct current is safe."
-- Thomas Edison

"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."
-- Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

"But what ... is it good for?"
-- Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968,
commenting on the microchip

"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."
-- Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment
Corp., 1977 [DEC went on to founder in the PC market.]

"This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as
a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us."
-- Western Union internal memo, 1876

"The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay
for a message sent to nobody in particular?"
-- David Sarnoff's associates in response to his urgings for investment
in the radio in the 1920s

"Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?"
-- H. M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927

"Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil?
You're crazy."
-- Drillers who Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill
for oil in 1859

"Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau."
-- Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929

"640K ought to be enough for anybody."
-- Bill Gates, 1981

"Louis Pasteur's theory of germs is ridiculous fiction".
-- Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872

"That the automobile has reached the limit of its development is suggested
by the fact that during the last year no improvements of a radical nature
have been introduced."
-- Scientific American, 1909

And a few more which should be especially interesting to the warp drives doubters:
"This foolish idea of shooting at the moon is an example of the absurd
length to which vicious specialization will carry scientists. To escape
the Earth's gravitation a projectile needs a velocity of 7 miles per
second. The thermal energy at this speed is 15,180 calories [per gram].
Hence the proposition appears to be basically impossible"
-- A. W. Bickerton, 1926

"I am bold enough to say that a man-made Moon voyage will never occur
regardless of all scientific advances."
-- Lee De Forest, "the father of electronics"

"There is no hope for the fanciful idea of reaching the Moon because of
insurmountable barriers to escaping the Earth's gravity."
-- Forest Ray Moulton, astronomer, 1932

"Space travel is utter bilge."
-- Richard Woolley, Astronomer Royal, 1956

This is actually just a small sampling of what is on the full list.

Many of your daily activities would have been considered impossible just 100 years ago. Impossible is an understatement, most of the brightest people in the world would not have been able to comprehend the concept of the internet, for example. There is absolutely nothing that would indicate that the next hundred years will be any different. It is likely that people of that time will have technologies that we would not understand if they explained them to us.

Now, I am not claiming that a warp drive is possible. If I knew that, for sure, I would be making serious money building it rather than typing things like this but as a fan of science and imagination, and a general optimist when it comes to technology I'm more inclined to cheer on the guy who NASA hired to try and build a warp drive than the science pundits saying it can't be done.

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