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Cambridge University is opening a £10 million centre to study the impact of AI on humanity


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Cambridge University announced on Thursday that it is opening a new £10 million research centre to study the impact of artificial intelligence on humanity.

The 806-year-old university said the centre, being funded with a grant from non-profit foundation The Leverhulme Trust, will explore the opportunities and challenges facing humanity as a result of further developments in artificial intelligence.

Over the next 10 years, the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence will study the short and long term impacts of this "potentially epoch-making technological development, both short and long term."

The centre will be led by Professor Huw Price, the Bertrand Russell Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge.

Price said: "Machine intelligence will be one of the defining themes of our century, and the challenges of ensuring that we make good use of its opportunities are ones we all face together. At present, however, we have barely begun to consider its ramifications, good or bad."

Renowned scientists like Cambridge's Stephen Hawking and Oxford's Nick Bostrom have warned that machines could outsmart humans within the next century, possibly leading to a demise in jobs and, in the very worst case scenario, the end of the humanity. Last December, Hawking told the BBC: "The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race."

Cambridge said the facility will work in conjunction with the university’s Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER), which is funded by Skype cofounder Jaan Tallinn and looks at emerging risks to humanity’s future including climate change, disease, warfare, and artificial intelligence.

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The launch of the centre comes as US tech heavyweights such as Google, Facebook and Apple are starting to ramp up their research in artificial intelligence in a bid to make their platforms and devices more sophisticated.

Google, for example, bought Oxford AI spinout DeepMind for £400 million last January, while Facebook has set up a new AI research centre in Paris.

The founders of DeepMind have stated that the field they're working in needs to be treated with respect as it could end up being detrimental to humanity if sophisticated AI "agents" end up in the wrong hands.

Cambridge graduate and DeepMind cofounder Demis Hassabis revealed last month that some of the most prominent minds in AI are gathering in New York early next year to discuss the ethical implications of the field they work in.

Zoubin Ghahramani, deputy director of the new centre and professor of information engineering at Cambridge, added: "The field of machine learning continues to advance at a tremendous pace, and machines can now achieve near-human abilities at many cognitive tasks—from recognising images to translating between languages and driving cars.

"We need to understand where this is all leading, and ensure that research in machine intelligence continues to benefit humanity. The Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence will bring together researchers from a number of disciplines, from philosophers to social scientists, cognitive scientists and computer scientists, to help guide the future of this technology and study its implications."

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