Cambridge Centre To Study Prospect Of Robot Apocalypse

Proposed Cambridge-based Centre for the Study of Existential Risk would assess threat to humans from technology

A philosopher, a scientist and one of the co-founders of Skype have formed an alliance to create a new centre in Cambridge that will address developments in technologies that might pose a threat to the human species.

The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CESR) will investigate advances made in the fields of biotechnology and artificial intelligence that could force us to compete for resources and ultimately war with machines.

“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,” says Huw Price, of the Bertrand Russell Professor of Philosophy and one of CSER’s three founders. “With so much at stake, we need to do a better job of understanding the risks of potentially catastrophic technologies.”

Saving the world from Cambridge

Price’s interest in Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) was sparked by a meeting with Jaan Tallinn, co-founder of Skype, who has become an evangelist for the serious discussion of the ethical and safety aspects of AI. Price then introduced Tallinn to Lord Martin Rees, Emeritus Professor of Cosmology & Astrophysics at Cambridge, and the three formed an alliance hoping to establish CESR.

Price acknowledged that the idea is far-fetched and reminiscent of science fiction like Battlestar Galactica and Terminator, but said this is exactly the reason why they must be investigated so that human civilization doesn’t open ‘Pandora’s box’.

“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. “We should be investing a little of our intellectual resources in shifting some probability from bad outcomes to good ones.”

“We hope that CSER will be a place where world class minds from a variety of disciplines can collaborate in exploring technological risks in both the near and far future,” he continued. “Cambridge recently celebrated its 800th anniversary – our aim is to reduce the risk that we might not be around to celebrate its millennium.”

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