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Cambridge University to study threat to humanity from tech advances

26 Nov 2012
Terminator robot

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have established a new centre to explore the dangers advances in technology may pose to the human species.

The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) will look at how developments in biotechnology, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence could potentially pose "extinction-level" risks to our species.

While few would deny the benefits humanity has received as a result of technology, the centre will analyse whether technological advances will help humans survive or will lead to their extinction.

"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 Huw Price, a professor of philosophy and one of the CSER's three founders.

"We need to take seriously the possibility that there might be a ‘Pandora's box' moment with artificial general intelligence (AGI) that, if missed, could be disastrous. With so much at stake, we need to do a better job of understanding the risks of potentially catastrophic technologies."

Jaan Tallinn, a former software engineer who co-founded Skype, will be working with Price on the project. The third CSER founder is scientist Lord Martin Rees, a former master of Trinity College and president of the Royal Society.

The launch of the centre is planned for next year.

Price spoke of his hope that many other researchers would join the CSER project.

"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 added.

V3 contacted the CSER founders to find out the amount of funding the research project will have but have yet to receive a response.

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Rosalie Marshall

Rosalie Marshall is the special projects editor and chief reporter at V3. Previously she was a reporter for IT Week and channel editor for online television site Rosalie covers government IT, business applications, IT skills, open source technology and social networks.

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