“Atomic bombs are primarily a means for the ruthless annihilation of cities.”
Those are the words of Leo Szilard, one of the scientists who drove the development of nuclear weapons. He wrote them as part of a petition signed by dozens of other scientists who had worked on the Manhattan Project and pleaded with President Harry Truman not to use the nuclear bomb in Japan.
Within months of its introduction in 1945, the architects of today’s nuclear world feared the implications of the technology they had created.
Almost 75 years later, it’s time to ask again technologists, innovators, entrepreneurs and academics: will you be part of the “ruthless annihilation of cities”? Will you spend your talents in the service of nuclear weapons? Will you use technology to create or destroy?
Our moment of choice.
Humanity is at another turning point.
A new nuclear arms race has begun in earnest with the US and Russia leading the way; breaking the promise of a lasting peace in favor of a new Cold War. Russia’s latest weapon is built to destroy entire coastlines with a radioactive tsunami. The United States is building new nuclear weapons that “are more likely to use.”
Meanwhile, North Korea appears to be rebuilding its nascent nuclear weapons program. And India and Pakistan are on the brink of open nuclear conflict, as evidenced by climate modeling that could lead to a global famine that will kill more than 2 billion people.
How do we stop this march towards oblivion?
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has created an opening: the opportunity to radically change course with the power of international law and changing norms. The nuclear ban treaty will become international law once 50 nations have ratified it. We are already at 22.
The financial world is also recognizing the risk, with some of the world’s largest pension funds stripped of nuclear weapons. But there is something even more powerful than the almighty dollar; human capital.
“It took innovation, technological disruption and ingenuity to create the nuclear dawn. We will need those same forces to a greater extent to achieve a nuclear twilight. ”
The nuclear weapons industrial complex relies on the most talented scientists, engineers, physicists and technologists to build this deadly arsenal. As more talent moves to the tech sector, defense contractors and the Pentagon is trying to work with major tech companies and disruptive startups, as well as continue its work with universities.
Without those talented technologists, there would be no new nuclear arms race. It is time to shed the human capital of nuclear weapons.
A mistake to end humanity?
Just over a year ago, Hawaiians took cover and frantically Googled “What to do during a nuclear attack.” Days later, many Japanese mobile phone users also received a false alert for an incoming nuclear missile.
The combination of human error and technological failures that expose these incidents make accidental nuclear strikes inevitable if we do not move to end nuclear weapons before they finish us.
The development of new machine learning technologies, autonomous weapon systems, cyber threats, and social media manipulation is already destabilizing the global political order and possibly increasing the risk of a nuclear cataclysm. That is why it is vital that the tech community collectively commit to using their skills and knowledge to protect us from nuclear eradication by joining the effort for global nuclear abolition.
We need to stop this silly nuclear escalation in its tracks. Our commitment must be to a world free of nuclear weapons, interrupting the trajectory on which we are currently heading. Business as usual will likely end in nuclear war.
It took innovation, technological disruption, and ingenuity to create the nuclear dawn. We will need those same forces to a greater extent to achieve a nuclear twilight: the complete disarmament of nuclear-weapon states and safeguards against future proliferation.
The belief that we can keep doing what we have done for seven decades for another seven decades is naive. It is based on a flamboyant misplaced belief in the illogical idea of deterrence. We are simultaneously told that nuclear weapons keep the world safe, they are never used. They grant power, but only make certain states powerful.
This fallacy has been exposed for this moment in time. Thirty years after the end of the Cold War, nuclear weapons have proliferated. Key treaties have been destroyed or are under threat. And even more states are threatening to develop nuclear weapons.
So I’m calling you: join us with this necessary interruption; declare that you will not have a hand in our passing; Declare that you will use technology forever.