Robert Sloss predicted the iPhone in 1910

by on August 16, 2010 at 7:36 am in Books, History, Science, Web/Tech | Permalink

Well, more or less.  Or is it an iPad?  In 1910 Stoss published an essay called "The Wireless Century," intending to predict the world of 2010.  In this world everyone carries around a "wireless telegraph" which:

1. Serves as a telephone, the whole world over.

2. Either rings or vibrates in your pocket.

3. Can transmit any musical recording or performance with perfect clarity.

4. Can allow people to send each other photographs, across the entire world.

5. Can allow people to see the images of paintings, museums, etc. in distant locales.

6. No one will ever be alone again. 

7. Can serve as a means of payment, connecting people to their bank accounts and enabling payments (Japan is ahead of us here).

8. Can connect people to all newspapers, although Sloss predicted that people would prefer that the device read the paper aloud to them (not so much the case).

9. Can transmit documents to "thin tubes of ink," which will then print those documents in distant locales.

10. People will have a better sense of the poor, and of suffering, because they will have witnessed it through their device (not obviously true, at least not yet).

11. People will vote using their devices and this will empower democracy (nope).

12. Judicial testimonies will be performed over such devices, often from great distances.

13. People will order perfectly-fitting fashions from Paris; this guy should be in the Apps business.

14. Married couples will be much closer, and distance relationships will be closer and better.

15. Military targeting and military orders will become extremely precise.

The essay is reprinted in the Arthur Brehmer book Die Welt in 100 Jahren.  The book is interesting throughout; a bunch of the other writers thought in 2010 we would be fighting wars with large zeppelins.

1 Matt August 16, 2010 at 7:49 am

Amazing that he was so close, given the year of the prediction. I don’t read too much into successful predictions though, if we assumed predictions were purely random, we’d still expect to see a few ‘correct’ ones, which we then tend to focus on as being particularly prescient. The same applies to those that ‘predicted’ the financial crisis.

2 arne.b August 16, 2010 at 8:39 am

#7: Japan, and Finland, and several sub-saharan African countries, too, right?

3 jizay August 16, 2010 at 8:47 am

#11 is a yes – it’s called American Idol.

4 Nny August 16, 2010 at 9:04 am

I’ve seen suffering and strife on my phone. #10 is true.

5 nelsonal August 16, 2010 at 10:31 am

The green uprising was almost entirely documented on cell phones (mostly twitter rather than video but still). If anything by failing to foresee TV he was late in his prediction of when people would see the lives of the poor.

6 Andrew August 16, 2010 at 10:51 am

We vote on the important stuff do we not?

Whether gays should be allowed to burn flags in mosques at the site where national security failed us, that we leave to ballot box.

7 Terry August 16, 2010 at 1:28 pm

I love listening to the audio edition of The Economist on my iPhone. #8 is true for me.

8 Doug August 16, 2010 at 1:53 pm

It seems odd that you would post #10 only 3 posts after linking to photos of the flooding in Pakistan. See also Hurricane Katrina, the Tsunami, and Haiti (especially Haiti, how many donations came in by cell phone?).

9 happyjuggler0 August 16, 2010 at 3:28 pm


Someone copied your entire post without attribution. Thought you might like to know. I found it when I started trying to find a copy of the actual essay online.

10 wlu2009 August 16, 2010 at 4:19 pm

happyjuggler..if you click “original article” in the lower right hand side, it links to this post. Not sure if this counts as attribution but at least it’s there. Still seems like bad move though.

11 Alvin August 16, 2010 at 6:08 pm

You should submit this to the Patent Office. Apple’s patents would get rejected.

12 Nikki August 16, 2010 at 7:04 pm

Photos? and printing? I didn’t know Apple had finally figured out how to do MMS and send documents to printers.

It is funny that so many people in the U.S. fail to realize how this “smartphone = iPhone” thing is perceived in the world. It belongs to the same category as walking around in white socks + running shoes, or a diet coke after a double cheeseburger with fries counting as a diet, or believing you were kidnapped by extraterrestrials. That’s how you instantly spot an American, and that is also what makes it so difficult to persuade people that Jessica Simpson is not the epitome of the American intellect.

13 CasperG August 16, 2010 at 9:39 pm

My, my, Nikki, superior much? “That’s how you instantly spot an American,”, indeed. What a crock. There are stupid people the world over, and you appear to be among them.

14 lol@nikki August 17, 2010 at 10:17 am

lmao! What do you perceive is wrong with white socks + running shoes? You are SUPPOSED TO wear white socks with running shoes, especially when you are wearing shorts. Any other color socks + running shoes and shorts makes you look like you don’t know how to dress yourself. Black socks with shorts in any situation is unacceptable. White socks with black shoes + pants is never acceptable. Any other color socks + white shoes is unacceptable. lrn2fashionnub

15 Gordon August 17, 2010 at 12:09 pm

I wear white socks with black running shoes, but it is hard to notice because I wear my pant legs so long. It is my secret tribute to Michael Jackson. I claim that no one predicted that. Oh, and thanks for sharing.

16 Chris August 17, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Great predictions, shame it was automaticly linked with the iPhone. The Android I’m wrighting this on is just as, if not more capable.

17 adam August 20, 2010 at 12:18 am

“The iPhone wasn’t a leap forward”?

18 funkybuby August 24, 2010 at 8:43 am

“As if the iPhone were the only smartphone in the world.”

Indeed it is not the case, but currently all the available smartphones are using the paradygm that was defined by Apple with the iPhone…

So it’s not correct but correct in the same time depending on the angle of view that is choosen 🙂

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