British director Christopher Nolan, who directed the new movie ‘Oppenheimer,’ used practical effects to recreate a nuclear bomb explosion. He warned that the advancement of artificial intelligence could pose a similar existential threat.
‘Oppenheimer,’ set to release on July 21, tells the story of Robert Oppenheimer, an American physicist crucial to the Manhattan Project and known as the “father of the atomic bomb.”
During a panel discussion after a preview of the movie, Nolan drew comparisons between Oppenheimer’s creation and the current development of AI. The panel, moderated by Chuck Todd from “Meet the Press,” included Nolan, Dr. Thom Mason from Los Alamos National Laboratory, physicists Dr. Carlo Rovelli and Dr. Kip Thorne, and author Kai Bird.
“The rise of companies in the last 15 years bandying words like algorithm — not knowing what they mean in any kind of meaningful, mathematical sense — these guys don’t know what an algorithm is,” Nolan stated during the panel. “People in my business talking about it, they just don’t want to take responsibility for whatever that algorithm does.”
“Applied to AI, that’s a terrifying possibility. Terrifying,” he continued. “Not least because, AI systems will go into defensive infrastructure ultimately. They’ll be in charge of nuclear weapons. To say that that is a separate entity from the person wielding, programming, putting that AI to use, then we’re doomed. It has to be about accountability. We have to hold people accountable for what they do with the tools that they have.”
Nolan’s remarks followed a walkout by the cast of ‘Oppenheimer,’ led by actor Cillian Murphy, during the movie’s premiere as part of an ongoing strike organized by the main labor unions representing actors and writers in the US. The strike stemmed from disagreements with studios about the role of AI and its potential impact on the entertainment industry’s labor practices.
“With the labor disputes going on in Hollywood right now, a lot of it — when we talk about AI, when we talk about these issues — they’re all ultimately born from the same thing, which is when you innovate with technology, you have to maintain accountability,” Nolan explained.
“When I talk to the leading researchers in the field of AI right now, for example, they literally refer to this — right now — as their Oppenheimer moment,” the director continued. “They’re looking to history to say, ‘What are the responsibilities for scientists developing new technologies that may have unintended consequences?'”
Later in life, Robert Oppenheimer expressed remorse for his work on the Manhattan Project, quoting from the Hindu text, the Bhagavad-Gita: “now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” Similarly, AI pioneer Dr. Geoffrey Hinton recently expressed regret for his contributions to generative artificial intelligence, including ChatGPT.
In an interview with the New York Times in May, he stated, “I console myself with the normal excuse: If I hadn’t done it, somebody else would have. It is hard to see how you can prevent the bad actors from using it for bad things.”