Albert Einstein was one of the most renowned and celebrated scientists of the 20th Century, so it is no surprise that people continue to quote the German-born physicist more than 60 years after his death.
But, the internet has a way of twisting people’s words, or in this case, making them up altogether.
A quote attributed to Einstein about his fear of the day technology “will surpass human interaction” leading to a “generation of idiots” has been resurfaced on social media recently, despite being debunked several times.
Most versions of the quote circulating online, like this one, feature a photo of Einstein with the quote’s text: “I fear the day technology will surpass human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.” Pasted below it is an image of a five young people standing side by side while looking down, their eyes glued to their cellphones.
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
We could find no record of Einstein ever saying or writing this, despite his papers and quotes being archived in several databases, including the definitive collection “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press.
The closest iteration of the quote (at least the first half) was said, and linked to Einstein, in a scene from the 1995 movie “Powder.” Actor Jeff Goldblum, who plays the character Donald Ripley, says “It’s become appallingly clear that our technology has surpassed our played humanity,” to which Powder, by Sean Patrick Flanery, responds “Albert Einstein.”
Quote Investigator, a website that tracks down quotations, found that variations of the quote started to appear on webpages in 2012, the same year the scene in “Powder” was uploaded to YouTube.
The website concluded that the quote is likely fake, as “the phrasing of the saying has changed over time and different sets of pictures have been attached.”
Einstein did, however, note the negative impacts of technology. The closest Einstein quote to share the sentiment, that we could find, was in a letter to Otto Juliusburger on April 11, 1946:
“I believe that the abominable deterioration of ethical standards stems primarily from the mechanisation and depersonalisation of our lives—a disastrous byproduct of science and technology. Nostra culpa! (We are to blame!”)
On the other hand, Einstein supported the advancement of technology, too. In another quote recorded by the Quotable Einstein collection (p. 246), he said it internationally chained together.
“Technology resulting from the sciences has internationally chained situation together and this has caused all wars to become a matter of international importance. When this has entered the consciousness of mankind, after sufficient turmoil, then men will also find the energy and goodwill to create organizations that have the power to end wars.”
Jimena Canales, historian of science and author of “The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate That Changed Our Understanding of Time,” told PolitiFact that she has never heard of such a quote by the physicist, either.
“I could be wrong, but (it) doesn’t sound like Einstein to me at all,” Canales wrote in an email. “He had quite the opposite view of radio technology, which he believed would unite people.”
A post on the internet claims that Einstein once said he feared “the day technology will surpass human interaction.” And when that happened “the world will have a generation of idiots.”
There is no record of Einstein ever saying or writing anything close to those words, despite his papers and quotations being well-documented in several databases and works.
We rate it Pants on Fire!