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Christopher Nolan warns that AI is reaching an ‘Oppenheimer moment’

‘We have to hold people accountable for what they do with the tools that they have’

By Hollie Geraghty

Christopher Nolan speaks on a panel about 'Oppenheimer'
Christopher Nolan (Picture: NBC/ YouTube)

Christopher Nolan has warned of the “terrifying possibility” of artificial intelligence, saying that the technology is reaching its “Oppenheimer moment”.

The director compared the rapidly evolved technology to the creation of the atomic bomb – the subject of his new film Oppenheimer starring Cillian Murphy – during a recent panel conversation after a preview screening in New York.

“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 said (per Variety).

The Christopher Nolan film stars Florence Pugh, Emily Blunt, Robert Downey Jr., Matt Damon, and more

“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,” Nolan 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 came after actors’ union SAG-AFTRA called for a strike on Thursday (July 13), joining striking WGA members on the picket line. One of the disagreements in question related to AI regulation in the industry.

“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 added.

“Do you think we’ll keep re-examining Oppenheimer? As our understanding of quantum physics continues, as our taming of the atom continues,” moderator and Meet the Press anchor Chuck Todd asked.

“I hope so,” Nolan replied. “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?’”

The first reactions to Oppenheimer hailed the film as as ‘spectacular’ and ‘epic’ in rave reviews this month, ahead of its release this Friday (July 21).

Murphy, who plays “father of the atomic bomb” J. Robert Oppenheimer, told Rolling Stone UK in his recent interview that “it’s the best script I ever read”.