Christopher Nolan warns that AI is reaching its 'Oppenheimer moment'

Director Christopher Nolan (left) and Cillian Murphy (right) pose for the film 'Oppenheimer' in London (12 July 2023)
Director Christopher Nolan (left) and Cillian Murphy (right) pose for the film 'Oppenheimer' in London (12 July 2023) Copyright Vianney Le Caer / Invision / AP
By David Mouriquand
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"We have to hold people accountable for what they do with the tools that they have."

“I am become death, the destroyer of worlds, ” said J. Robert Oppenheimer, upon realising that his role in the creation of the atomic bomb could doom humanity.

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According to celebrated director Christopher Nolan (Memento, Inception, Dunkirk), the same could be applied to the rise of artificial intelligence and its “terrifying” influence in Hollywood.

Speaking on a panel following a screening of his latest film Oppenheimer in New York, the director spoke out against the effects that AI has had on the industry. The panel included Los Alamos National Laboratory director Dr. Thom Mason, physicists Dr. Carlo Rovelli and Dr. Kip Thorne, as well as author Kai Bird, who co-wrote “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer,” on which Nolan’s film is based.

AI systems will go into defensive infrastructure ultimately. They’ll be in charge of nuclear weapons.

Nolan said, per Variety: “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. People in my business talking about it, they just don’t want to take responsibility for whatever that algorithm does.”

He continued: “Applied to AI, that’s a terrifying possibility. Terrifying. 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 new feature retells how theoretical scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer (played by Cillian Murphy) was tapped by US military powers to develop the atomic bomb during World War II.

When you innovate with technology, you have to maintain accountability.

His comments on AI come at a time when artificial intelligence and its impacts are a major point of contention in Hollywood and at the heart of disagreements between the studios and the scriptwriters, who have been on strike since May. They were joined on the picket fences by actors last week, as the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) officially declared its intention to go on strike. The Writers Guild of America has demanded the ban of AI being used to write and rewrite material.

“With the labour 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 stated.

“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. They’re looking to history to say, ‘What are the responsibilities for scientists developing new technologies that may have unintended consequences?’”

Oppenheimer is released in cinemas on 21 July.

Additional sources • Variety

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