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Book hits critical mass

Updated: 2024-01-06 09:50 ( China Daily )
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Its co-authors Kai Bird (left) and Martin J. Sherwin after their Pulitzer win.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Bird says that both he and Sherwin agreed that what makes the story of Oppenheimer interesting is that he was tried and "destroyed" in the security hearing in 1954 despite his achievements.

"He was a great public intellectual. Yet he was disinvited from even given speeches at universities," Bird says, adding that it's a tragedy that resonates today because we are living "another Oppenheimer moment" when dealing with artificial intelligence, a new, unchartered territory of science and technology.

"We need scientists to explain some of the choices that we should be thinking about, yet we don't have scientific heroes any longer," he says. "Some 70 or 80 years ago, we revered scientists, we revered Albert Einstein. For a time, we revered Oppenheimer. We respected them. We listened to them. But today I don't think we have anybody like that.

"I think one of the reasons is that in 1954, we destroyed Oppenheimer in the secret hearing, and that sent a message to scientists, warning them not to step out of their narrow lane of expertise and pretend that they could become public intellectuals," he adds.

"That's one of the reasons why the book and the movie have resonated with people. We need more Oppenheimers."

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