Ray Kurzweil is maybe the most respected tech pundit today, and most of the time his predictions about how science and technology transform society come true. But even some of Kurzweil’s most outrages forecasts might not have generated the same kind of response as the following prediction to its contemporaries:
“As soon as completed, 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. He will be able to call up, from his desk, and talk to any telephone subscriber on the globe, without any change whatever in the existing equipment. An inexpensive instrument, not bigger than a watch, will enable its bearer to hear anywhere, on sea or land, music or song, the speech of a political leader, the address of an eminent man of science, or the sermon of an eloquent clergyman, delivered in some other place, however distant. In the same manner any picture, character, drawing, or print can be transferred from one to another place. Millions of such instruments can be operated from but one plant of this kind. More important than this, however, will be the transmission of power, without wires, which will be shown on a scale large enough to carry conviction. These few indications will be sufficient to show that the wireless art offers greater possibilities than any invention or discovery heretofore made, and if the conditions are favourable, we can expect with certitude that in the next few years wonders will be wrought by its application.”
This excerpt is from an article titled “The Future of the Wireless Art” which appeared in Wireless Telegraphy & Telephony, 1908. The author was none other than Nikola Tesla, famed inventor and possibly the world’s most eccentric scientist of the time.
At the time, Tesla was quite in trouble since he was in desperate need of cash to finish his pet project: the Wardenclyffe Tower, a mammoth multi-stage Tesla Coil structure rising to 187 feet in height. In the article, he advertised Wardenclyffe as a telecommunication beacon. In fact, its scope was far grander – that of transmitting wireless electricity anywhere in the world.
It’s hard to say whether Tesla believed any word he said or it was all a ploy to lure investors with bombastic claims. During his career as an inventor, Tesla had built a reputation of showmanship. Almost every invention he unveiled to the public was accompanied by some ‘magic’ trick.
Personally, I think Tesla meant everything he wrote in the article. After all, he was so confident that his invention will transform humanity, that anything of the sorts he was predicting (even though there were barely automobiles and aircraft at the time, let alone transistors) must have shared the same belief. Sadly, investors wouldn’t touch Tesla with a stick anymore. By 1912, Tesla began to withdraw from that doubting world. Near the end of his life, Tesla became fixated on pigeons, especially a specific white female, which he claimed to love almost as one would love a human being. He died in 1943, in debt.