5 Tech Predictions That Didn’t Deliver

What do flying cars, colonies on Mars, and robots that do more than clean your floors and scare your pets have in common? They’re all part of a long list of technologies that are tantalizingly close, yet never seems to arrive.

So, in the spirit of technological innovations that have never come to pass, we have compiled a list of five tech predictions that did not deliver. Stay tuned for a follow-up article where we list some tech predictions that did hit the mark.

1. Fast, widely available, and affordable satellite internet

2021 tech promises that didn't deliver - satellite internet

Space technology has revolutionized how we live on planet Earth. GPS and weather forecasting are two great examples. But the promise of ubiquitous, low-latency, and affordable satellite internet has felt like a pipedream. Many have tried, few, if any, have succeeded.  

This is not to say we haven’t had satellite internet in the past, in fact we’ve had it for decades. The problem is high latency times and prohibitive cost, which anyone can attest to if you’ve ever used the Wi-Fi on a plane or a cruise ship.

To overcome the latency and cost issues of conventional satellite internet, the new contenders to the market are taking a radically different approach. Instead of using several massive and expensive satellites in geosynchronous orbits (20,000 miles above the planet), they plan to use hundreds or thousands of reasonably priced small satellites, taking advantage of economies of scale. These new satellites will be in a low-Earth orbit, approximately 200-300 miles above the Earth, two orders of magnitude closer to the user.

OneWeb was seen as a major contender to deliver on the dream of affordable, low-latency satellite internet and they certainly had the financial backing to make it happen. After receiving almost $3 billion in funding from SoftBank, Grupo Salinas, Qualcomm, Virgin Group, and Airbus, the company promised operational service by 2019.  

OneWeb later revised that to 2020 with a greatly reduced service offering – to provide highspeed satellite internet to the arctic. But in March of 2020, the company filed for bankruptcy citing the stock market crash and the global pandemic. By this point, the company had only launched 74 satellites out of a planned 650.

The company secured an additional $1.4 billion in rescue financing and exited bankruptcy protection. OneWeb claims the additional funding should be enough to complete their first constellation but supplying widely available, highspeed satellite internet to the general public is not in the cards anytime soon.  

There is one bright spot, both literally and figuratively, in the world of satellite internet. SpaceX’s Starlink constellation is partially operational and has started offering beta testing of its service as of October, just barely making the 2020 deadline. The service costs $99 per month but requires an upfront hardware investment of approximately $600. So far, the results look promising, with some beta testers reporting speeds of 150 Mbps.  

2. Hyperloop 

2021 tech promises that didn't deliver - hyperlook

Back in 2015, then CEO of Hyperloop Tech, Rob Lloyd claimed to Popular Mechanics “In less than five years, Hyperloop will have its “Kitty Hawk” moment,” referencing the Wright brother’s inaugural flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. What could go wrong you ask? Turns out, a lot.  

Hyperloops are magnetically suspended trains that travel in a low-pressure sealed tube. This means the floating train can move in a near frictionless environment, allowing them to travel at theoretical speeds of 750 mph.  

Hyperloops promise to complete the trip from San Francisco to L.A. in 30 minutes. They also offer a more environmentally friendly mode of transportation because they are powered by electricity, yet they can travel faster than commercial airplanes.  

In the same 2015 Popular Mechanics article, Lloyd claimed “I’m very comfortable by 2020 you and I will be sitting beside each other in a Hyperloop taking the first ride, and it’ll probably be 100 to 150 kilometers (about the distance from Washington, D.C. to New York City).”  

2020 has come and gone. So has Hyperloop Tech. Now Virgin Hyperloop One, the company has a 1,640-foot test track in California, far from the 100 to 150 km track promised by Lloyd. But in Lloyd’s defense, the first flight of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk was only 120 feet

3. Deepfakes altering the 2020 presidential election  

2021 tech promises that didn't deliver - deepfakes

There was a large discussion, bordering on hysteria, that the burgeoning technology of deepfake videos would have a major impact on the 2020 presidential election. This, however, never came to pass.

A deepfake uses AI technology to create a video of, for example, a politician, saying or doing things they have not said or done. In theory, given the widespread claims of election interference in the 2016 presidential election, this new technology could have been used in nefarious ways, but it wasn’t. Why not? Probably because anyone who wanted to influence public opinion in the most recent presidential election didn’t need to work that hard.  

Creating believable deepfakes requires a considerable level of skill using AI algorithms. On the other hand, editing a sound or video clip to misconstrue someone’s speech is a relatively easy thing to do. Anyone with a smartphone or Adobe can do that.  

It’s possible that as deepfake technology improves, and if methods of detection lag behind, we could see it used more often to influence public opinion. But for the 2020 election, it was essentially a non-issue.

4. Bitcoin would reach $1 million 

2021 tech promises that didn't deliver - bitcoin

John McAfee, a highly controversial figure, predicted in 2017 that Bitcoin would reach $1 million by 2020. He was so certain of his prediction he claimed he would eat an intimate body part if he was wrong. We are sorry inform Mr. McAfee that Bitcoin didn’t come anywhere close to that amount, but it wasn’t just McAfee who predicted a meteoric rise in the value of Bitcoin. Former Goldman Sachs Hedge-Fund Chief, Raoul Pal said in 2015 that the price of bitcoin could hit $1 million in five years, although he was not willing to wager such high stakes on the prediction like McAfee.  

As of February 15, 2021, one Bitcoin is currently valued at $48,655.00 USD. The price of the most notable cryptocurrency fluctuates slightly but has seen explosive growth in value in the past few months. But $48K is still far from the $1 million amount predicted by McAfee and Pal.  

You may know McAfee from his prior legal troubles, his 2016 and 2020 presidential ambitions, or most likely, from the antivirus software that bears his name. He founded McAfee Associates in 1987 and left the company in 1994. McAfee is currently incarcerated in Spain pending extradition to the U.S. for tax evasion.  

5. Flying cars 

2021 tech promises that didn't deliver - flying cars

It wouldn’t be a blog about failed tech predictions without giving a nod to the most overpromised and underdelivered technology in history – flying cars.  For almost as long as there have been cars, we have dreamt of soaring over traffic and potholes in our own personal flying automobile. Henry Ford even built and tested one in 1928, but lucky for him and unlucky for his test pilot, the model crashed and killed the pilot.  

When Uber Technologies Inc. announced in 2017 at the Uber Elevate Summit they could deliver flying cars in just three years, we all waited with bated breath. 2020 came and went and the most we heard from Uber was a December press release announcing a partnership with Joby Aviation to begin flying in 2023. Will we see flying cars in 2023? Or will they continue to elude us and be the staple of every annual and ignominious list of tech promises that failed to deliver.

Make sure you stayed tuned to Gazelle’s blog for a future post about tech predictions that did deliver.

It goes without saying that developing new and revolutionary technology is difficult business. While we may poke fun at some of the more egregious examples of corporate and personal hubris, we thoroughly respect the ingenuity, courage, and hard work of inventors and futurists everywhere that improve the world around us.

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