Remembering the history of the future

A look back at 33 years' worth of IT predictions

The Information Age spawned by computer technology and the Internet has produced no shortage of words. And some of them have helped define the IT world.

Here we have assembled 33 memorable quotations about computers, programming, the Internet and (a frequent topic of discussion) a certain giant software company. Some of the quotes are insightful, some pithy and some, in the form of predictions, hilariously wrong. But even those flubbed forecasts say something about the development of IT.

‘I have seen the future….’

“The problem of viruses is temporary and will be solved in two years.”
– John McAfee, 1988

“Computer viruses are an urban legend.”
Peter Norton, 1988

“640K ought to be enough for anybody.”
Bill Gates, 1981

“The Internet? We are not interested in it.”
– Bill Gates, 1993

“I see little commercial potential for the Internet for at least 10 years.”
Bill Gates, 1994

“Before man reaches the moon, mail will be delivered within hours from New York to California, to Britain, to India or Australia.”
Arthur Summerfield, 1959, U.S. Postmaster General

“Two years from now, spam will be solved.”
– Bill Gates, 2004

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

“I think there’s a world market for about five computers.”
– Thomas J. Watson, IBM chairman, circa 1948

“There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.”
– Ken Olson, president of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977

“Windows NT addresses 2 Gigabytes of RAM, which is more than any application will ever need.”
– Microsoft, on the development of Windows NT, 1992

View from the trenches

“The most likely way for the world to be destroyed, most experts agree, is by accident. That’s where we come in; we’re computer professionals. We cause accidents.”
– Nathaniel Borenstein

“Pessimists, we’re told, look at a glass containing 50 percent air and 50 percent water and see it as half empty. Optimists, in contrast, see it as half full. Engineers, of course, understand the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.”
– Bob Lewis

“From then on, when anything went wrong with a computer, we said it had bugs in it.”
- Navy Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, recalling an incident in 1947 when researchers working on the Harvard University Mark II Aiken Relay Calculator discovered a moth in the machine.

“There are two ways to write error-free programs; only the third one works.”
­Alan J. Perlis

“Programming is like sex: one mistake and you’re providing support for a lifetime.”
Michael Sinz

“Passwords are like underwear: you don’t let people see it, you should change it very often, and you shouldn’t share it with strangers.”
– Chris Pirillo

Biting the Big Dog

“I’ve noticed lately that the paranoid fear of computers becoming intelligent and taking over the world has almost entirely disappeared from the common culture. Near as I can tell, this coincides with the release of MS-DOS.”
– Larry DeLuca

“I am not out to destroy Microsoft. That would be a completely unintended side effect.”
– Linus Torvalds

“I’m not one of those who think Bill Gates is the devil. I simply suspect that if Microsoft ever met up with the devil, it wouldn’t need an interpreter.”
– Nicholas Petreley

“Microsoft has a new version out, Windows XP, which according to everybody is the ‘most reliable Windows ever.’ To me, this is like saying that asparagus is ‘the most articulate vegetable ever.’”
­Dave Barry

“Microsoft is not the answer. Microsoft is the question. NO is the answer.”
Erik Naggum

That thing called the Internet  

“The best way to get accurate information on Usenet is to post something wrong and wait for corrections.”
– Matthew Austern

“Oh, so they have Internet on computers now!”
Homer Simpson

“When I took office, only high-energy physicists had ever heard of what is called the World Wide Web.... Now even my cat has its own page.”
Bill Clinton, 1996

“On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog.”
Peter Steiner

“The Internet? Is that thing still around?”
­Homer Simpson

‘My God, what have we done!’

“If the automobile had followed the same development cycle as the computer, a Rolls-Royce would today cost $100, get a million miles per gallon, and explode once a year, killing everyone inside.”
– Robert X. Cringely

“If McDonalds were run like a software company, one out of every hundred Big Macs would give you food poisoning, and the response would be, ‘We’re sorry, here’s a coupon for two more.’ ”
– Mark Minasi

“Computers are getting smarter all the time. Scientists tell us that soon they will be able to talk to us. (And by ‘they,’ I mean ‘computers.’ I doubt scientists will ever be able to talk to us.)”
Dave Barry

“I think computer viruses should count as life. I think it says something about human nature that the only form of life we have created so far is purely destructive. We’ve created life in our own image.”
– Stephen Hawking

“There are two major products that come out of Berkeley: LSD and Unix. We don’t believe this to be a coincidence.”
Jeremy S. Anderson

“There are only two industries that refer to their customers as ‘users.'”
­– Edward Tufte

More extensive collections of computer and Internet quotes have been assembled by DevTopics here and here. And you can find more at PCs N Dreams.


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