The Atonement of J. Robert Oppenheimer

If you’ve seen my previous talk on working for a government contractor, you know that I’ve built things that didn’t pass my ethics test. If you didn’t, I helped to build software to find WiFi hotspots by watching how their signal strength changed as my phone moved around. What I didn’t know was that the real use for the software was to find phones by sniffing their WiFi signals. Its purpose was to help soldiers with guns find people based on where their phones were. I built this at the same time we found out the military had been spying on Americans in America using drones, so even if I’d been ok with helping soldiers find people (which I wasn’t), I certainly was not ok with helping them find Americans in America.

Now I don’t know if it was ever actually used. I was an intern without a clearance, so in all likelihood nothing I worked on was ever put into the “field”. But the chance that it has helped to murder people rightfully bothers me, and it probably always will. But today, I want to talk to you about someone else who did something far worse, and about his struggle for the remainder of his life to mitigate the negative consequences of his action. I want to talk about the Father of the Atomic Bomb, J Robert Oppenheimer.