The Technological Imperative for Ethical Evolution

By |2019-07-09T14:12:17-07:00July 9, 2019|

As a winner of the top prize in computer science (the ACM Turing Award), Stanford Prof. Martin Hellman was invited to give an address to the annual meeting of Nobel Laureates in Lindau Germany. While his talk had the serious-sounding title of “The Technological Imperative for Ethical Evolution,” Prof. Hellman told us that it consists largely of stories in which he later realized he had behaved unethically or where he had difficulty ensuring that he did. Lessons he learned the hard way are spelled out to aid others in avoiding the same pitfalls. A link to Hellman’s full paper follows the introduction below.


Almost overnight, the Manhattan Project transformed ethical decision making from a purely moral concern into one that is essential for the survival of civilization. In the words of Albert Einstein, “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.” [Nathan and Norden 1981]

Environmental crises such as climate change, along with recent technological breakthroughs in genetic engineering, AI, and cyber-technology are adding to the technological imperative for accelerating humanity’s ethical evolution.

This paper presents eight lessons for accelerating that process, often using examples where I either failed to behave ethically or encountered great difficulty in doing so. I hope it thereby adds, however meagerly, to humanity’s odds of avoiding Einstein’s “unparalleled catastrophe” and, instead, building a world that we can be proud to pass on to future generations. No one person can solve this problem, but if enough of us move things a little, all together we can succeed.

To read Professor Hellman’s full paper in PDF format, click here.

A video of Prof. Hellman’s Heidelberg Lecture is here.

*Photo: Heidelberg Lecture delivered by Martin E. Hellman at the 69th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, 03.07.2019, Lindau, Germany
Picture/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings