Did Albert Einstein say, "I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots"? No, that's not true: Archival experts told Lead Stories that there is "no evidence" of such a quote having come from Einstein. Lead Stories found no record of this quote after searching several databases and archival records dedicated to his work, including the definitive collection "The Ultimate Quotable Einstein" from Princeton University Press.
One version of the claim was in a post on Instagram on January 17, 2023, that featured the quote overlaid on a photo of young people staring at their cellphones. It read:
I FEAR THE DAY THAT TECHNOLOGY WILL SURPASS OUR HUMAN INTERACTION. THE WORLD WILL HAVE A GENERATION OF IDIOTS.
Below is a screenshot of how the post appeared at the time of writing:
(Source: Instagram screenshot taken Sat Jan 18 13:10:18 UTS 2023)
The quote-tracing website Quote Investigator credits the quote as having first appeared in online forums in 2012. Lead Stories found evidence of the quote becoming more widely distributed on social media after it appeared in the British tabloid publication The Daily Mail on January 27, 2015. Below is a compilation of other such examples of the quote that have appeared on social media throughout the years leading up until this publication, which we have collected through social media and a Google search:
(Source: Screenshot compilation Wed Mar 8 18:35:06 UTC 2023)
In an email to Lead Stories received March 8, 2023, Emily de Araújo of the California Institute of Technology Einstein Papers Project said there is "no evidence of such a quote from Einstein."
Lead Stories also searched for the quote through a digital online database hosted by the Albert Einstein Archives at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel. With 90,000 records, the archives contain the largest collection of original manuscripts written by the physicist. Our search returned no results. An additional search for other iterations of the quote -- including "generation of idiots," "technology will surpass" and "I fear the day" -- did not return any matches.
The quote does not appear in any addition of "The Ultimate Quotable Einstein," the Princeton University Press editorial director of humanities and social sciences, Eric Crahan, confirmed in an email to Lead Stories received March 8, 2023.
A "technology" quote is found on page 397 of the book:
I believe that the abominable deterioration of ethical standards stems primarily from the mechanization and depersonalization of our lives -- a disastrous by-product of science and technology. Nostra culpa! [Our fault!]
As Quote Investigator -- and later fact-checking sites such as Politifact and Snopes -- reported, the quote appeared on social media in 2012, around the same time a scene from the 23-second clip of the 1995 movie "Powder" was uploaded to YouTube. In the scene, actor Jeff Goldblum, playing Donald Ripley, stated, "It's becoming apparently clear that our technology has surpassed our humanity." In response, Powder, played by Sean Patrick Flanery, responded "Albert Einstein." A search through the archive databases listed above also did not yield any matching results of the quote from the movie.
Many of Einstein's original works were written in his native language German and later translated to English, according to the Library of Congress. It is possible that an original quote may have been mistranslated, as Einstein himself once said (page 26 of "The Ultimate Quotable Einstein"), "Many things which go under my name are badly translated from the German or are invented by other people." However, as the quote stands in its entirety on social media, no such iteration has been verified.
Lead Stories also contacted the Library of Congress to determine whether there is any record of the quote having been ever attributed to Einstein. We will update this article accordingly when it responds.