Cambridge University boffins to combat rise of the machines

News 26 Nov, 2012

Scientists to look at ways to see off Terminator-style threat

Cambridge University is set to open a centre to study the possible dangers of advanced artificial intelligence.

The proposed Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) will open on campus next year by philosophy professor Huw Price, cosmology professor Martin Rees, and Skype co-founder Jann Tallinn.

The centre will look into the possible ways artificial intelligence could "threaten our own existence”.

We shouldn’t take artificial general intelligence (AGI) for granted.

“At some point, this century or next, we may well be facing one of the major shifts in human history – perhaps even cosmic history – when intelligence escapes the constraints of biology,” said Price.

“We need to take seriously the possibility that there might be a ‘Pandora’s box’ moment with AGI that, if missed, could be disastrous. I don’t mean that we can predict this with certainty, no one is presently in a position to do that, but that’s the point! With so much at stake, we need to do a better job of understanding the risks of potentially catastrophic technologies.”

Price, alongside his colleagues questioned whether the increasing amount of technological progress will increase humanity’s chance of survival.

“Think how it might be to compete for resources with the dominant species,” said Price. “Take gorillas for example – the reason they are going extinct is not because humans are actively hostile towards them, but because we control the environments in ways that suit us, but are detrimental to their survival.”

People from the fields of science, policy, law, risk and computing from across the university and outside are set to become advisors to the new centre.

"The basic philosophy is that we should be taking seriously the fact that we are getting to the point where our technologies have the potential to threaten our own existence – in a way that they simply haven’t up to now, in human history," said Price.