In recent months, thanks to the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) programs like ChatGPT and Bing’s AI, there has been an almost nonstop discussion about the future of technology and people’s relationship with it. In the midst of all this, a quote attributed to Albert Einstein, “The human mind must prevail over technology,” warrants proper analysis.
UPSC has a long history of asking questions about the interface between technology and people. In the Mains Essay Paper 2021, Section A had the prompt “The process of self-discovery has now been technologically outsourced”. The 2019 essay paper had in Section B “Rise of Artificial Intelligence: The Threat of an Unemployed Future or Better Job Opportunities Through Reskilling and Upskilling” as a prompt.
The ethics paper also asked questions about the technology. For example, the 2021 GS-IV paper asked: “The impact of digital technology as a reliable source of input for rational decision-making is a contentious issue. Evaluate critically using suitable examples.” Questions about the use of artificial intelligence could also have a significant impact on the case study part of the work.
What is the quote and what does it mean?
“The human mind must prevail over technology” is a quote attributed to one of the greatest theoretical physicists of the 20th century, Albert Einstein. Einstein, who received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921, was adamant that scientific endeavor and research is about humanity. Elsewhere, too, he stressed how much compassion is required to set reasonable limits to human ambition.
In its simplest reading, the quote focuses on the fact that technology should only be subject to the “human mind” and must never rule over it. On closer inspection, the quote turns out to be a warning: it’s up to the people who are constantly innovating and scaling up the technology to ensure that humanity is preserved throughout the process and that anything potentially harmful is modified only in the early stages or is discarded.
Einstein, who is credited with the quote, had lived through World War I and World War II and seen firsthand what unchecked scientific revolutions could do to society. While technology could greatly improve the quality of life, it could also develop weapons of mass destruction, which would create chaos and fear among the populace. He himself opposed the Nazi Party, led by Adolf Hitler, and its activities in Germany, the country of his birth, from which he banished himself for most of his life.
The quote also underscores how people tend to look beyond their own long-term benefits when seeking what they consider important, but ultimately short-term and short-lived gains. An example of this is that despite decades of warning signs, people have not been able to satisfactorily solve the problem of rising global temperatures. There were multiple mechanisms like the COP27, but there was not even a global consensus to effectively address the issue.
This example also shows that even though people have research tools and scientific expertise, they still don’t let their “mind” rule the technology, making Einstein’s words sound even more like a prescient warning.
How and where can this quote be used?
Since OpenAI’s ChatGPT took the world by storm in December, there have been multiple discussions about how AI will affect people in the future, both near and far. While there were the usual fears of job losses and ending dystopian discussions about the world as we know it, the rise of AI that can understand and respond to natural language has also raised questions about what it actually means to be human .
In the ensuing confusion, one might make the observation that despite everything, “the human mind must triumph over technology” since the ultimate goal of AI should be to improve people’s lives.
This quote can also be used when talking about advances in medical technology. The rapid pace at which the Covid-19 vaccines have been developed and administered can be seen as an example of how science is putting people’s well-being at the center.
In the context of public administration, AI can be used as a powerful tool for maintaining records and similar activities: another example of people “dominating” over technology.
Similar quotes from Einstein:
* “Without ‘ethical culture’ there is no salvation for mankind.” (From his 1951 essay “The Need for Ethical Culture”)
* “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination orbits the world.” (From What Life Means to Einstein: An Interview by George Sylvester Viereck, 1929)
* “A dictatorship means muzzles everywhere and consequently dumbing down. Science can only thrive in an atmosphere of free expression of opinion.” (From 1930 essay ‘Science and Dictatorship’)
* “Why does this great applied science, which saves labor and makes life easier, bring us so little happiness? The simple answer is, because we haven’t yet learned how to use it sensibly.” (From a 1931 speech to students at the California Institute of Technology)