Edison’s Most Ridiculous Predictions of the Future
Some are downright hilarious
Thomas Edison is a household name for many reasons. Some adore him for the amount of creativity and ingenuity he put into his work. Others deem him a callous fraud because of all the evil things he did that have only recently been gaining traction in the public sphere.
All that aside, Edison was brilliant and had lots of insight into many topics because of his hands-on experience. This did not deter him from being wrong. Some of the predictions he had sound insane for us living in the present and would probably never be made a viable option in the future.
You read that correctly—metallic books. Imagine if you went around carrying a book made primarily of metallic elements from the pages to the cover. This is what Edison envisioned.
Edison suggested that books could be made of nickel pages with steel reinforcements. He suggested that it would be able to absorb printer ink, and the reasons he presented do sound realistic:
“A sheet of nickel, one twenty thousandths of an inch thick is cheaper, tougher, and flexible than an ordinary sheet of book paper.”
His reasoning was based on cost-optimization, and thus he concluded that working with nickel and steel would produce cheaper, more resilient books. Sadly, that was the bane of his reasoning, and it limited his thinking on the practicality of this matter.
“I could make a pound of nickel sheets for a dollar and a quarter.” — Thomas Edison
Lack of poverty
Edison concluded that the entire world would have access to better products that were way cheaper in the future. He said that the world would be “flooded with the cheap products of machinery.”
The basis of his reasoning was that the development of machinery and automation would significantly reduce the amount of struggle that man has. We can say that the world has certainly improved in the development of different products. Still, Edison failed to predict that there would be oppression and drastically underdeveloped regions because of war and political strife.
His prediction was based on the goodwill he imagined for humanity. But we now understand that automation and the increase of mechanization have the potential to remove large chunks of certain workforces that are in desperate need of improvement in developing countries. This will not decrease poverty, it will have the opposite effect for a while.
Here was another example of Edison looking at costs and figures instead of looking at what people really desired at the time. Edison mentioned that he had a disdain for wooden furniture partly because of its nature as a flammable object:
“The steel required for a given piece of furniture costs only one-fifth as much as the wood would cost for the same piece of furniture…”
He further emphasizes this by stating the amount of money lost annually to such fires, which bothered him. Consequently, he reasoned that people would be completely adapted to steel furniture and that they would make visual imitations of the material via paints. If you desire a mahogany-looking table then it would be a matter simply getting it painted in that manner.
“It is because we use such materials that the fire losses in this country amount to almost $500 million a year.” — Thomas Edison
We know this is further from the truth as other materials have come up, and steel furniture is not necessarily the norm. The development of technologies to prevent the easy burning of furniture has rendered the widespread use of wood for furniture a thing of the present.
Edison was a highly capable man. Still, we have seen above that he absolutely missed the mark on some of the issues he pondered upon. He was able to diagnose the problems but not all arriving at practical solutions.
“Clipping, Cosmopolitan (Magazine), Allan Louis Benson, February 1911,” Edison Papers Digital Edition, accessed January 6, 2021, http://edison.rutgers.edu/digital/document/SC11023.
Novitske, Lexi. “The AI Invasion is Coming to Africa (and It’s a Good Thing) (SSIR).” Stanford Social Innovation Review: Informing and Inspiring Leaders of Social Change. Last modified February 12, 2018. https://ssir.org/articles/entry/the_ai_invasion_is_coming_to_africa_and_its_a_good_t