“I love the past. Everyone in it is so stupid.”

by admin on July 24, 2015

I was doing some random web-surfing today, when I ran into a jaw-dropper of a thread on Google Groups, from 2002.

Wrote Larry Tamarkin (a master from New York) in rec.games.chess.politics:

Having played some of the great young talents of the last 20 years, I can give some perspective on the strength of the players at the time they were 8-11. (…)

Fabiano Caruana & Marc Tyler Arnold.  These kids play here at the Marshall a lot, and I’ve played them many times. I generally win just barely from them (approximately 60% – My FIDE rating is 2186).

I believe these two kids are the next top US players in the years to come. Both are just 9 years old, have talent comparable to Jeff [Sarwer]’s at 8, and (perhaps most importantly), stable family environments.  Talent-wise, I consider them ahead of Robert Hess, Michael Thaler & other well-publicized kids today.  – Hey, I could be wrong, but that’s my opinion & I’m sticking to it:).

This is actually a remarkably good prediction, given that they were nine years old at the time. Caruana reached #2 in the world last year, although he’s fallen back a little this year. Arnold is a grandmaster and ranked #33 in the U.S. Tamarkin was slightly wrong about Hess, who ranks a little bit above Arnold at #23 and has arguably been more successful. Michael Thaler? Who? He’s rated 2331 currently and hasn’t played a tournament in more than a year. In all fairness, it would appear he is now a graduate student in economics at Harvard University, and probably going to earn more money than Fabiano Caruana, Marc Tyler Arnold and Robert Hess combined.

But I digress. The post that really got me was two posts below Tamarkin’s, written by an anonymous troll named “towser”:

This is irrelevant. None of these players count when you look at the big picture. A strong US player is just an average European or Asian player.

Now in one sense Mr. Towser was not completely wrong. You could argue that Caruana only became really good after he moved away from the United States. However, I think that gets the causes and effects backwards. I think that the will to succeed, which motivated Caruana to move to Madrid at age twelve, would have made him successful even if he had stayed in the U.S. I’m going to say that if he had stayed in the U.S., he would still be in the world’s top twenty, maybe even the top ten. He would definitely “count.”

After reading this thread, I was curious whether I could find other spectacularly wrong predictions on the Internet. The most amazing one I found was not only on the Internet, it was about the Internet. Clifford Stoll, a well-known author, wrote a column in Newsweek in 1995 called Why the Web Won’t Be Nirvana. He makes more completely incorrect predictions in one article than most people make in a lifetime. Ironically, some of them were for pretty good reasons, but nevertheless they were wrong. According to Stoll:

  • “The truth is no online database will replace your daily newspaper.” (2015: No daily newspaper isn’t online.)
  • “No CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher.” (2015: As a philosophical statement I agree, but as a prediction it stinks; lots of online instruction is available.)
  • “No computer network will change the way government works.” (2015: Arab Spring? Civic hacking?)
  • “Try reading a book on disc. At best, it’s an unpleasant chore: the myopic glow of a clunky computer replaces the friendly pages of a book. And you can’t tote that laptop to the beach. Yet Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab, predicts that we’ll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Internet. Uh, sure.” (2015: Uh, Kindle? Amazon?)
  • “Logged onto the World Wide Web, I hunt for the date of the Battle of Trafalgar. Hundreds of files show up… None answers my question.” (2015: So true. Before Google, that is.)
  • “Computer-aided education? Bah. These expensive toys are difficult to use in classrooms and require extensive teacher training.” (2015: Nowadays the kids could teach the teachers.)
  • “We’re promised instant catalog shopping—just point and click for great deals. We’ll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations, …” (2015: You mean there’s any other way?)
  • “What’s missing from this electronic wonderland? Human contact. … Computers and networks isolate us from one another.” (2015: I semi-agree with him, but again as a prediction this stinks. If he had only thought about solving the problem instead of just pointing it out, he could have been the one to invent Facebook.)

I think that as a gold mine of failed predictions, it’s really hard to top this. You have to be damn smart to be so stupid. So I’ll leave the final words to another anonymous Internet wit, who commented on Stoll’s article: “I love the past. Everyone in it is so stupid.”

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