Back in the 1980’s, I was quite involved in the Pugwash Movement for nuclear disarmament, and I was a member of Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and things like that, and so I spoke and wrote quite a bit about the nuclear threat back then. And I had the privilege through those activities of getting to know some of the most impressive people I’ve ever met, who are some of the physicists who worked at Los Alamos during World War II on the bomb.
But then they returned to civilian and academic life afterwards and felt an obligation to do all they could to control the powers that they’d helped to unleash. I’m thinking of people like Joseph Rotblat, Hans Bethe, Viki Weisskopf, people like that, really great men. Sadly, they’re no longer with us. I think they set an example for scientists in any area of science that has societal ramifications, which is that even if you are primarily an academic scientist, you should be concerned about the application of your work. You may not yourself do the exploitation of the work, but you should be concerned to ensure that if your work has beneficial applications, someone exploits them. And if it has dangerous applications, efforts are made to reduce their risk.
That is now a responsibility which I think falls not just on the nuclear scientists, as it did 70 years ago onwards, but on the scientists involved in these other new techniques, particularly microbiology, genetics, artificial intelligence, and cyber techniques. So I think it’s very important that they should be engaged.