If the "experts" weren’t so serious — and often dire — with their predictions for 2011 and beyond, this could be a highly amusing time of year. Amongst all the holiday festivities we could be entertained — even laughingly regaled — by economists, analysts, futurists, tech experts, sociologists, and marketers with their computer models, colored graphs, trends analysis, projections, and forecasts.

Media producers and publishers of TV, radio, newspapers, books, magazines, blogs, and the like are especially enamored by media savvy predictors (the higher profile and credentialed the better) who confidentially provide succinct sound bites backed by numbers and "analysis." Rarely is there a critical look at the track record of these predictions.

Philip Tetlock, professor of psychology, business, and political science at University of California Berkeley, has extensively studied the accuracy of these predictions. His Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? "describes a twenty-year study in which 284 experts in many fields, from professors to journalists, and with many opinions, from Marxists to free-marketeers, were asked to make 82,361 predictions about the future, finding that they were only slightly more accurate than chance, and worse than basic computer algorithms…forecasters with the biggest news media profiles were especially bad." A chimpanzee throwing darts at a corkboard full of random projections, list of natural disasters, social trends, new technologies, and the like would do better. Some newspapers have actually picked stocks by throwing darts. They’ve often done much better than the ones chosen by "experts."

So for your prediction amusement during Silly Season, I recommend you read two Fast Company blogs. Here they are with a few especially hilarious examples of past "expert" predictions:

Looking Forward by Looking Back – Predictions for 1993… From 1893

  • Labor organizations will have disappeared.
  • There will be no rich or poor.
  • Religion will cease to be a power in the world.
  • Rail travel will reach 90 – 100 miles an hour.
  • Transcontinental mail will be forwarded by means of pneumatic tubes.
  • All marriages will be happy – for the law will put to death any man or woman who assumes conjugal position without the proper physical, mental, and financial qualifications.
  • Three hours will constitute a long day’s work.

Timeline of Failed Predictions (Part One)


  • "So many centuries after the Creation, it is unlikely that anyone could find hitherto unknown lands of any value." – Committee advising King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain regarding a proposal by a certain Christopher Columbus, 1486.


  • "The view that the sun stands motionless at the center of the universe is foolish, philosophically false, utterly heretical … the view that the earth is not the center of the universe and even has a daily rotation is philosophically false, and at least an erroneous belief." – Roman Catholic Church, 1616.


  • "Four or five frigates will do the business without any military force." – British Prime Minister Lord North, on dealing with the rebellious American colonies, 1774.


  • "What can be more palpably absurd than the prospect held out of locomotives travelling twice as fast as stagecoaches?" – Quarterly Review, 1825.
  • "X-rays will prove to be a hoax." – Lord Kelvin, President of the Royal Society, 1883.


  • Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value." – Marechal Ferdinand Foch, 1904.


  • "You will be home before the leaves have fallen from the trees." – Kaiser Wilhelm, 1914 (start of WW1).


  • "There is no likelihood man can ever tap the power of the atom." – Robert Millikan, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1923.


  • "TV will never be a serious competitor for radio because people must sit and keep their eyes glued on a screen; the average American family hasn’t time for it." – unknown, from The New York Times, 1939.


  • "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, 1949.


  • "In all likelihood world inflation is over." – International Monetary Fund CEO, 1959.


  • "But what…is it good for?" – Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968 (commenting on the microchip.)


  • "(The world will be) eleven degrees colder in the year 2000." – Kenneth Watt, 1970.


  • "That virus [HIV] is a pussycat." – Dr. Peter Duesberg, molecular-biology professor at U.C. Berkeley, 1988.


  • "You’ll never make any money out of children’s books" – Advice to JK Rowling from Barry Cunningham, editor at Bloomsbury Books, 1996.


  • "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction." – Dick Cheney, August 26, 2002.

Timeline of Failed Predictions (Part Two)

"Following up on my last post about failed predictions, I thought it would be useful (Okay, fun) to think about a few things that people might live to regret saying in the future."

  • "The book is dead."
  • "Social media? That’s just for kids."
  • "There will never be another war in Europe."
  • "Nation states are irrelevant."
  • "The price of oil will remain under $150 for the foreseeable future."
  • "Credit default swaps do not represent a major threat to the financial system."
  • "We will find a cure for every known disease."
  • "E-mail is here to stay."
  • "New labor saving devices will shorten the working week to 4-hours."
  • "Aliens do not exist."

So have a good laugh when you hear pundits pour forth their "wisdom" about what’s ahead. You might even picture a chimpanzee sitting on his or her lap with dart in hand grinning at the camera and shaking its head at the babble spewing forth.