Destroyer of Worlds

Two not entirely parallel threads this morning, on nuclear weapons and artificial intelligence.

The question came up again

It’s been answered by historians, but Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project have so much mythology attached to them that I’m sure it will be asked again.

Alex Wellerstein, one of the best historians of the Manhattan Project: Oppenheimer probably didn’t say it at the time, and the most noted source of the quote is from a video made toward the end of his life.

It alludes to an encounter between Krishna, one of the avatars of the god Vishnu, and Arjuna, a prince who does not want to participate in a war of succession, in which he would have to kill his relatives. Krishna convinces him that it is his duty, partly by an apparition not unlike that of an atomic weapon and that quote.

It’s likely that Oppenheimer’s feelings paralleled those of Arjuna, particularly as he looked back on his life. And he had studied the Bhagavad Gita.

We’re now faced with another runaway technology that has the power to be enormously destructive. Ezra Klein tells us that its developers share Arjuna’s reservations, but the dharma of competition forces them forward. I am become Death, destroyer of meaning.

Klein’s article is mostly about the ways to regulate artificial intelligence that have been proposed by various governmental bodies. And he says, quoting the developers, that we’d better do it fast.

It seems to me that artificial intelligence, and the unintelligent chatbots and artbots those developers have loosed on the world, are enormous dangers with little justification for their development. But the Silicon Valley ethos of the Next Big Thing continues. Blockchain was a destructive loser. The Metaverse was also a loser, not quite so destructive. Web 3.0, whatever that was, was a loser. So yes, let’s throw these garbage generators out there to pollute the discourse and show our Venture Capital lords that there is another Next Big Thing. Let’s also call these autofill generators “artificial intelligence.”

I agree we need to regulate this garbage. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening fast.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money

One comment

  1. The Blog Fodder · April 18

    Humans have an insatiable curiosity, “what would happen if . . .” We do things because we can, which brought us this far and may well destroy us in the end. We rationalize that everything we do is good and ignore or miss the downside. “I am become Death. The destroyer of Worlds” is the anguished cry of too little too late. Wisdom comes after the fact. And it does not come to all


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