Oppenheimer director Christopher Nolan says possibilities of AI are 'terrifying'

During a panel following a preview screening of his new movie, Christopher Nolan said AI creators are facing their 'Oppenheimer moment'.
Chris Young
Christopher Nolan (second from right) directing Cillian Murphy (far right).
Christopher Nolan (second from right) directing Cillian Murphy (far right).

Universal Pictures 

British director Christopher Nolan, who recreated a nuclear bomb explosion using practical effects for his new movie 'Oppenheimer', cautioned that we could be approaching a similar existential threat with the development of artificial intelligence.

The movie 'Oppenheimer', releasing July 21, charts a pivotal moment in the life of Robert Oppenheimer, an American theoretical physicist who played a pivotal role in the Manhattan Project. He is often cited as the "father of the atomic bomb".

During a panel following a preview screen of his new movie, Variety reports, Nolan drew parallels between Oppenheimer's creation and the development of AI today.

Nolan's comments go beyond Hollywood AI concerns

The panel, moderated by "Meet the Press" anchor Chuck Todd, included Nolan, Los Alamos National Laboratory director Dr. Thom Mason, physicists Dr. Carlo Rovelli and Dr. Kip Thorne, and author Kai Bird, who co-wrote the book Nolan's film is based on, 'American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer'.

"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 comments come shortly after the cast of Oppenheimer, including lead actor Cillian Murphy, walked out of the movie's premiere as part of an ongoing strike organized by the two main labor unions representing the interests of actors and writers in the US.

AI creators facing their 'Oppenheimer moment'

One of the issues that led to the ongoing writers and actors strike is a disagreement with studios over the role of AI and its potential impact on labor practices in the entertainment industry.

"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 regret over his work for Project Manhattan. In one televised interview, he quoted from the Hindu sacred text, the Bhagavad-Gita, "now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.'

In an alarmingly similar fashion AI pioneer Dr. Geoffrey Hinton recently stated that he regrets his life's work, which laid the groundwork for 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."

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board