Albert Einstein once said, "It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity."
I would be the first to admit that technology has helped the human race. I would not be writing this column without my Apple Computer, Microsoft Word or Google searches. And globally around the world the technology of the social media has made transforming upheavals like the Arab Spring possible.
But on technology Einstein was still spot on. Technology has certainly exceeded our humanity. And it's not only the ubiquitous cell phones, which rudely interrupt our face-to-face conversations. It is much more.
It's the computer driven buy-sell programs, which at times have disrupted the stock market. Automated trading or algorithmic trading is using a sophisticated, mathematical problem solving procedure to initiate a buy or sell order without human intervention and thereby exceeding the stock traders' humanity. In high frequency trading, computers make decisions to place orders before human traders can process the relevant information. Automatic trading caused the 2010 Flash Crash in which the Dow Jones suffered the second largest one-day point swing in its history.
And what about robotic cars? Recently Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill allowing self-driving cars to be legal in California. That State will be the first to allow robots to drive cars as soon as 2015. Drivers would have to apply for a different type of license that would allow them to be a back-up driver in case of an emergency. Doesn't this outstrip and exceed the humanity of the "driver"? The California Department of Motor Vehicles will allow Google, which is invested in this market, to test Toyota Priuses on public roads. Currently Google has logged 300,000 miles. 50,000 of these miles have been without any human intervention and all of them without accidents.
Our factories too are more and more controlled by technology and not by workers. Warren Bennis, a Distinguished Professor of Business Administration at the University of Southern California , warns us, "The factory of the future will have only two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment."
I know there is a flip side to this. Technology has freed workers from back-breaking and mindless work, but Bennis' graphic observation, though exaggerated, is thought provoking and worth considering.
The worst part of being overawed by this technology, however, is the isolation from honest-to-God, face-to-face human contact it can foster. We are in danger of being desensitized from our own humanity which demands human contact to be fully realized.
The English chemist and novelist, Charles Percy Snow long ago told us, "Technology... is a queer thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other." We have already been stabbed in the back and we are suffering.
It shows itself in many little ways. How about the global position systems in our cars, which make map reading unnecessary? I admit a GPS can be very helpful, but it can also diminish our humanity. Listening to a disembodied, computerized voice rather than being more aware of the beauty and uniqueness of our surroundings, or thinking through our location and destination can shrink our humanity.
And what about calculators and even more sophisticated applications on I-Phones, which deprive students of the ability to think about percentages and fractions?
Computer programs are also becoming more and more sophisticated in translating from one language to another. Of course, in an increasing international economy such technology can be very helpful.
In the classroom language teachers and professors can usually spot an automatic translation in student assignments, because the translations are too perfect or too stilted, but these programs are another instance of technology overtaking our humanity and the ability for students to think for themselves.
I end with an observation from Isaac Asimov, another genius who wrote or edited over 500 books. "The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom."
We need less technology and more shrewdness and discernment - we need more wisdom.
Daniel O'Rourke lives in Cassadaga. His column appears on the second and fourth Thursday each month. A grandfather, Dan is a married Catholic priest. His new book, "The Living Spirit" is a collection of previous columns. To read about that book or send comments on this column visit his website www.danielcorourke.com/