Elon Musk’s boring idea may sound absurd, but it’s not the first one

Late last year, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, randomly tweeted out that he was fed up of traffic and that he would, “build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging”. While many take his tweets seriously, there have been instances in the past where Musk’s tweets became the center of attention, but did not materialise. However, a few hours later, in typical Musk fashion, there was a name (The Boring Company) and a short term plan and now according to a Bloomberg report, Musk has already begun digging in his own backyard, with a tunnel boring machine named ‘Nannie’.

So this indeed turned out to be one of those tweets that many should take seriously. The idea here is to build a 3D network of roads that would not only have normal road cars, but would also host the Hyperloop One transport system running in some of them. This would take off the stress from the streets above leading to lesser congestion in big cities.

The idea does sound whacky, but in today’s day and age, it is exactly what the world needs. 2016 saw a number of crazy ideas from Facebook’s Aquila, a solar powered plane that would beam the internet down to remote parts of the world, to Hyperloop and more recently, flying cars.

Similar to what happened when Apple was to build a car, Elon Musk was quick to shoot down Google’s idea about a flying car as well. As per Bloomberg, there are plenty of problems when there are accidents mid-air or when cars are not maintained and parts happen to fall off. Then as with any vehicle that flies, the downward thrust creates noise and with so many flying vehicles, there are bound to be problems. Nothing however is set in stone as things are always experimental on a trial and error basis.

But that’s just Elon Musk and while SpaceX has plans to colonise Mars in the future, let’s take a look at some older quotes by some famous people that were proved wrong in the years that followed.

Bill Gates

Indeed the most famous tech quotes supposedly came from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. As the legend goes, Gates actually claimed at a trade show in 1981 that “640K ought to be enough for anybody” when commenting on the RAM used by a just announced IBM PC. Bill Gates denied that he ever made such a statement. But that time has passed, and Windows for some odd reason still needs a good 8GB of RAM to run smoothly and be future proof to coming updates. Moreover, even Android smartphones today need 4GB of RAM as a standard to multi-task and run apps in the background without lag. 6GB is soon becoming the standard for flagships with a new 8GB RAM smartphone just announced by a Chinese smartphone maker.

Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson, the first CEO of International Business Machines (IBM) in 1943 was quoted saying, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” While this quote was brought down by the Economist, the IBM archives do quote that even if it was made, Watson would have been referring to the IBM 701, an Electronic Data Processing Machine. The machine was built for scientific calculations.

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They were quite big and bulky and could take up substantial space in a room. This turned out to be a misquote as per IBM and the real quote which was discussed at a stockholders meeting goes like this, “as a result of our trip, on which we expected to get orders for five machines, we came home with orders for 18.” That is a big deal, since in 1953, renting one of these machines would cost you $12,000 a month.

Darryl Zanuck

Darryl Francis Zanuck was an American film producer and studio executive. Coming from the big screen, it was easy for Zanuck to put down the smaller screen by saying, “Television won't be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night."


Indeed, this one turned out to be the exact opposite. Televisions in all sizes and forms are today a standard way to view and even access content. And with online streaming services producing their own content, it is the big screen that is seeing fewer releases indeed.

Lord Kelvin

Lord Kelvin of the Royal Society of England was a powerful man of science. He once made a forceful declaration in 1895 stating that “Heavier than air flying machines are impossible,”. Now only if Lord Kelvin had to wait a few years (eight to be precise) because the Wright brothers proved him wrong with their home-built flyer.

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Today a Boeing 787 Dreamliner weighing in at no less than 250 tonnes easily takes to the skies and heavily relies on computers to make things easier for pilots. We are even launching rockets into space that carry satellites and humans with massive payloads considering that they have escape the clutches of the earth’s gravity. Now only if Lord Kelvin could see this coming.

This is however a good lesson for many to never underestimate the future. The bigger we think, the better and broader are our ideas. Even Steve Jobs for example, underestimated what a smartphone with a slightly bigger display size could do to Apple's fortunes. At times it is indeed wise to see the future through the eyes of science fiction writers than from the limited field of view of those who claim that something is impossible. In short, we can only get there if we give our ideas a chance. Here's to colonizing Mars in the near future then!

Published Date: Feb 17, 2017 14:33 PM | Updated Date: Feb 17, 2017 14:33 PM