The “rise of the machines”, or robots rising up to take over the world and wipe out humanity has been a popular theme in the science fiction world for decades, but does mankind really need to live in fear of an artificially intelligent nemesis?
That’s the question that a new academic center at Cambridge University is looking to answer, as it sets about assessing the likelihood of technology-related threats and their potential to threaten life as we know it.
Specifically, the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, or CSER for short, will analyze the dangers presented by artificial life, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and climate change, which have been identified as the “four greatest threats” to humanity.
In an interview with AFP, Cambridge philosophy professor Huw Price warned that to simply dismiss concerns of a robot uprising would be “dangerous”.
Such fears have been the hallmark of dozens of sci-fi flicks, most notably Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator series, in which the rogue computer system Skynet, developed by the US military, gains self-awareness and immediately sets about trying to wipe out mankind.
Some might dismiss the threat posed by Skynet as little more than a far-fetched fantasy, but according to the Cambridge researchers, the subject is worrying enough to merit some attention.
“The seriousness of these risks is difficult to assess, but that in itself seems a cause for concern, given how much is at stake,” states the CSER website.
Professor Price, who founded the project alongside Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn and astrophysics professor Martin Rees, said that the threat was quite a reasonable one:
“It seems a reasonable prediction that some time in this or the next century intelligence will escape from the constraints of biology. What we’re trying to do is to push it forward in the respectable scientific community.”
Professor Price warned that its not just a malicious threat humans need to worry about:
“As robots and computers become smarter than humans, we could find ourselves at the mercy of machines that are not malicious, but machines whose interests don’t include us”.
So long as mankind lasts that long, the CSER will be officially launched next year.