Toby Ord has written a new report with GovAI on lessons from the development of the atomic bomb relevant to emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, and nanotechnology.

The creation of the atomic bomb is one of the most famous and well-studied examples of developing a transformative technology — one that changes the shape of human affairs. There is much we don’t know about the future development of these technologies. This makes it much more difficult to reason about the strategic landscape that surrounds them. Which, in turn, makes it more difficult to help make sure the development is safe and beneficial for humanity. It is thus very useful to have a case study of developing a transformative technology.

The making of the atomic bomb provides such a reference case. This report summarises the most important aspects of the development of atomic weapons and draws out a number of important insights for the development of similarly important technologies.

One should treat the development of the atomic bomb not as a map to one’s destination, but as a detailed account of another traveller’s journey in a nearby land. Something that provides valuable hints to important dangers or strategies we might not have considered, and which we neglect at our own peril.

Read the report here.

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