?There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home?, opined Ken Olson in 1977. Ken towered as the founder, chairman and president of Digital Equipment Corp (DEC) that had originally developed and fabricated 64-bit RISC microprocessor, Alpha AXP. Later everything was taken over by Compaq and subsequently sold out to Intel.
In the early 1920s, D. W. Griffith (1875-1948), the premier pioneering American film director had declared, ?Speaking movies are impossible. When a century has passed, all thoughts of so-called speaking movies will have been abandoned. It will never be possible to synchronise the voice with the picture.?
The year was 1896. The acclaimed Irish mathematical physicist and engineer, Lord Kelvin, (after whom the Kelvin scale of absolute temperature measurement is named) was serving as the president of the Royal Society then held to be acme scientific organisation. With full conviction he opined, ?I have not the smallest molecule of faith in aerial navigation [flying] other than by ballooning.? Ironically, the Wright brothers first flew in 1905 barely five years later Lord Kelvin had made his remark.
?Its only a toy?, reacted Gardiner Green Hubbard, the founder of the National Geographic Society on seeing Alexander Graham Bell'stelephone in 1876. Gardiner happened to be the inventor'sfather in law.
Rex Lambert, founding editor of the Listener (established by BBC) mentioned??Television won'tmatter in your lifetime or mine? in his weekly magazine in 1936.
The Beatles were rejected by The Decca Recording Company in 1962 saying, ?We don'tlike their sound too much like the Shadows, and guitar music is on the way out.?
Quirk of fate
The Eddington-Chandrashekhar stand off has stood poignant in the annals of history.
In 1935, a young lad Subrahmaniam Chandrashekhar, nephew of Sir CV Raman hit upon a finding, later named after him ?Chandrashekharan Limit? that brought him the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1983. Then at Cambridge, Chandrashekhar approached Eddington, who was then a big shot in the scientist fraternity. He was rebuffed, ?Oh yes? he said, ?your mathematics may be all right but I don'tthink your physics is correct.? In a scientific conference at London on January 11, 1935, he passed a vituperative unseemly and unscientific remark, ??when discussing with him, I felt driven to the conclusion that this was almost a reductio ad absurdum ?..Various accidents might intervene to save the star, but I want more protection than that. I think there should be a law of Nature to prevent a star from behaving in this absurd way.? This otherwise could mark a turning point in his life.
A Nobel Prize that was accorded for stellar evolution to him almost half a century later could have been an early catch. Young Chandrashekhar'shopes were dashed to pieces. He was then in real despair. But did not relinquish further research on the same topic. Later he recounts-
?My position in science would have been radically altered as of that moment. Eddington'spraise could make one very famous in astronomy. But I really do not know how I would have reacted to the temptation, to the glamour. How many young men after being successful and famous have survived for long periods of time? Not many.? However they did not bear any grudge in their personal relation, ? la mode. When Eddington died in1944, Chandrashekhar delivered a memorial speech at the University of Chicago and again later he delivered a series of lectures to commemorate Eddington'scentenary titled??Eddington: The Most Distinguished Astropysicist of His Time?.
(The writer is a freelance journalist and can be contacted at [email protected])