From the Manhattan Project to AI: tracing the ethical parallels in business innovation

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Faruk Capan, EVERSANA

From the Manhattan Project to AI: tracing the ethical parallels in business innovation

By Faruk Capan, EVERSANA

If you’re a student of history – or have recently seen the popular movie “Oppenheimer”, you know just how pivotal of a figure J. Robert Oppenheimer is. He is forever linked to the development of one of the most powerful and dangerous creations in the history of the world – the atomic bomb. The movie depicts the story of Oppenheimer and the battle between unbelievable intelligence and ethical decisions that would shape if and when the bomb would be used.

Much like Oppenheimer, today we find ourselves at the dawn of another monumental time in the history of the world, this time driven by one of the fastest-developing technologies we’ve ever seen — artificial intelligence (AI). Like the atomic bomb, AI holds immense potential, but its usage across nearly every industry requires careful consideration of ethical and societal impacts.

Who was Oppenheimer and why is his name top of mind?

Julius Robert Oppenheimer is most known for his role as the scientific director of the Manhattan Project, the World War II initiative that developed the atomic bomb. His leadership and contributions played a pivotal role in the successful creation of this groundbreaking weapon. However, Oppenheimer’s legacy is also marked by intense ethical introspection as he grappled with the destructive power of the atomic bomb and the moral implications of its use – as depicted in the recent film “Oppenheimer” starring Cillian Murphy. A brilliant mind burdened with uncertainty. Oppenheimer is a symbol of the duality of scientific advancement and ethical responsibility in the atomic age.

Today’s scientific revolution, fueled by AI

Fast-forward 70 years later, and we are again witnessing a similar wave of new ways of working and thinking, this time powered by artificial intelligence. Industries are being revolutionized by automated decision-making, predictive analytics, and personalized customer experiences. These technologies can assist with everything from mundane daily tasks to more advanced scientific and medical integrations. However, in a similar vein to the atomic age, the initial buzz and anticipation must be weighed against the potential consequences and opportunities for misuse.

Drawing parallels between Oppenheimer’s ethical dilemmas and those faced by today’s AI developers and businesses, we must be clear that not everything about AI is absolutely positive. It’s a technology that has the power to transform work but at the same time, if not used appropriately, could create tremendous havoc. As Niels Bohr is credited with saying in “Oppenheimer”, “It’s not a new weapon. It’s a new world.” Ours is a new world, fueled by AI, in need of ethical structure.

Issues already identified and debated across many mediums include bias perpetuation, privacy invasion, and job displacement, demanding our attention. Ensuring the ethical deployment of these powerful technologies needs to be a priority for all developers.

Implications for today’s business world

AI’s evolution and continued growth, I believe, provides concrete lessons that are parallel to the Oppenheimer journey.

First, much like “Oppenheimer”, we are pouring resources into the development of technology on a global level. In the film, the race to create the atomic bomb was a race between countries such as Germany, Russia, China, and the United States. All knew that the first across the finish line was first in power, in negotiations, and at the head of the geopolitical negotiating table.

AI is on a similar course. It has been years in the making, but with the public launch of ChatGPT in late 2022, more eyes are on the technology than ever before. Governing bodies are trying to quickly put parameters around how it’s used to ensure it is safe and ethical.

Each day, a new study or report seems to arise about the dangers of AI in this sector or the challenges it could bring to that career path. These are all valid concerns and ones that must be carefully reviewed.

But much like the Manhattan Project, the clock is ticking. Those who get out ahead – whether in the public or private sector – will have an advantage.

And for companies, especially those in the pharmaceutical industry that use technology to create better patient experiences, they must step carefully and swiftly. As an industry, we cannot sit back and say we’ll revisit AI tomorrow. The time is now.

As I reflect on “Oppenheimer’s” cautionary tale, the message becomes clear: the ongoing journey of technological advancement demands a balance between innovation and ethical responsibility. AI, like the atomic bomb, is reshaping the world. We must approach this transformation by remembering the past in order to create a future where technology serves humanity responsibly.

Personal and professional responsibilities to ride the AI wave

First, I encourage everyone to stay informed about the latest developments in AI governance and policy and contribute to the ongoing dialogue surrounding responsible AI deployment. We all have a voice that must be heard.

Second, I urge you to simply try it. Not that you have to use AI intentionally every day, but simply experiencing the power of a generative AI tool may spark a new way of thinking and doing that could “level up” your work.

And thirdly, I want you to embody my favorite phrase: “AI won’t replace your job but people using AI will.” This is a message I challenge my team with every day.

In the end, it’s this combination of human experiences and personal touch coupled with the processing power of AI that will fuel the future. We each play an important role in where we will go. I encourage each of you to do your part and start riding the wave.

Faruk Capan, EVERSANA Faruk Capan is the Chief Innovation Officer at EVERSANA as well as the CEO of EVERSANA INTOUCH. He founded Intouch Group more than 20 years ago and is considered a forward-thinker who has embraced technology throughout his career to bring new solutions to complex challenges facing the industry. Reach him at [email protected].