[NOTE: The best way NOT to get my thoughts on a subject is to identify a topic and say, “You need to write about this.”  In most cases, the seed of a specific post comes from a personal discussion with friend or former colleague.  Then, something that emerges during the course of that conversation suggests a need for a deeper dive into the subject matter.  Or, in the case of today’s topic, my reaction to the issue under consideration is, “Where have I seen or heard this before?”]

For the past couple of days, I had a totally unrelated conversation with a long time mentor and friend about the importance of the humanities as part of a well-rounded education.  He asked my thoughts about how the humanities program at his alma mater might engage students in the STEM disciplines with the goal of helping them appreciate the value of literature, art and philosophy and their relevance to their career aspirations.  Knowing his affinity for the “Socratic method” of teaching, I was reminded of a PBS program (1977-81) called, “Steve Allen’s Meeting of Minds.”  For each episode, Allen cast an ensemble of actors to portray famous figures from the past such as Plato, Marie Antoinette, Martin Luther, Charles Darwin, and Catherine the Great.  The content consisted of a largely scripted conversation in which each opined about a current topic from their own historical perspective.

I suggested the university might revive this format as part of a series of seminars open to all students regardless of major.  I then asked ChatGPT to create a sample of what the script my look like.  “Create a dialogue between Edmond Burke, Thomas Paine and Machiavelli.”  And it did with Burke setting the stage.

Good evening, gentlemen. What an intriguing gathering we have here: the advocate of conservatism, the champion of revolution, and the pragmatist of power.

My friend responded with the following email which focused more on my use of ChatGPT than the content it generated.

A real challenge going forward!

To which I replied:

It is no coincidence that the emergence of AI should come at the same time as “Oppenheimer.”  Hopefully, we learned a lesson about the benefits and risks of technology from Einstein and Oppenheimer.  Though I doubt it.

My friend is not one to let me off so easily.  He came back with:

Ironically, we (referring to himself and his wife) just watched it, ending just 10 minutes ago, with very interesting observations from her.
Neither of you were witness to VJ Day!
However, no use of nuclear weapons since that fateful day!

The debate was afoot.  The following is an edited, expanded version of my next email about the perceived connection between the emergence of readily available artificial intelligence in the form of Open AI and a movie about the birth of nuclear warfare.

First, I wanted to correct the record.  I wondered if my friend assumed that I thought the decision to use atomic weapons to bring a quicker end to World War II was a mistake.  If you have read my book on the creative process, you would know I believe there is no such thing as a bad decision.  The outcome and long-term consequences of the decision may not be what we hoped for,  but at the time and circumstances under which the decision was made, it was not wrong.

What I find hard to believe, in hindsight, is that nobody, even as the Enola Gay took off from North Field in the Mariana Islands, asked the question, “What do we need to do on day one after Japan surrendered to ensure that this threat to humanity is properly managed?”  Especially, since they had to know Russia or someone else would master the technology to create their own bomb.

You might argue winning the war was such a priority, no one had time to consider what comes next.  But another situation in the exact same time period tells us that did not have to be the case.  Consider the almost immediate response to stabilize Western Europe after Germany’s surrender.  In 1947, Secretary of State George C. Marshall outlined what would become known as the Marshall Plan, authorized with passage of the Economic Cooperation Act of 1948.  Economic distress in Europe post-World War I was a major factor in Hitler’s rise to power.  The United States was determined to make sure that environment was not recreated after the Nazi defeat.

What’s more, the Western allies recognized there needed to be a credible deterrent to discourage future efforts by Germany or the Soviet Union to annex territory as Hitler did in Austria and Czechoslovakia.  The groundwork was laid by Great Britain and France with the Treaty of Dunkirk in March 1947,  The March 1948 Treaty of Brussels expanded the mutual assistance pact to include the Benelux nations.  The February 1948 communist coup d’état in Czechoslovakia became the catalyst for the establishment of NATO with the U.S. and Canada as members in April 1949.

From watching the movie about his life, one could contend Robert Oppenheimer was a visionary in the same mold as Marshall.  He knew what he created and the long-term dangers of an arms race.  His warning went unheeded.  The U.S. and other nuclear powers waited until 1968, 23 years after the wartime use of atomic weapons, to sign a nuclear proliferation treaty.  By then the genie was already out of the bottle.  Introspection about the estimated civilians who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, even if justified from a military perspective, should have raised moral questions about “what next” to preempt or at least temper a multi-national nuclear arms race.

Should we not be asking those exact questions with the emergence of artificial intelligence?  Or, are we going to wait until AI produces some devastating outcome before we have mechanisms to manage its constructive use, potential benefits and unimagined dangers?

For what it’s worth.
Dr.  ESP

3 thoughts on “OPENAIheimer

  1. If the only country with nuclear technology were us, speculating on – and limiting it’s future use would have been simple. We weren’t, after the first Soviet detonation.

  2. I’m sorry but the United States WAS the ONLY nuclear power for four years and offered no incentives to the world to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons. Just the opposite, the USA unilaterally escalated the arms race, moving forward with development of a second generation of bombs (thermonuclear/hydrogen with megaton capacity) before the USSR tested it first atomic/fission bomb in 1949.

    There was a quasi-effort, including a UN resolution which was adopted in 1946. While it set up the UN Atomic Energy Commission and recommended that nuclear material be used only for peaceful purposes, it contained no language about elimination of nuclear weapons.

  3. It’s always good to look at what we could have/should have done in hindsight. Russians had the technology.

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