Humanity’s last invention and our uncertain future

A philosopher, a scientist and a software engineer have come together to propose a new centre at Cambridge to address developments in human technologies that might pose “extinction-level” risks to our species, from biotechnology to artificial intelligence.

In 1965, Irving John ‘Jack’ Good sat down and wrote a paper for New Scientist called Speculations concerning the first ultra-intelligent machine. Good, a Cambridge-trained mathematician, Bletchley Park cryptographer, pioneering computer scientist and friend of Alan Turing, wrote that in the near future an ultra-intelligent machine would be built.

This machine, he continued, would be the “last invention” that mankind will ever make, leading to an “intelligence explosion” – an exponential increase in self-generating machine intelligence. For Good, who went on to advise Stanley Kubrick on 2001: a Space Odyssey, the “survival of man” depended on the construction of this ultra-intelligent machine.

Fast forward almost 50 years and the world looks very different. Computers dominate modern life across vast swathes of the planet, underpinning key functions of global governance and economics, increasing precision in healthcare, monitoring identity and facilitating most forms of communication – from the paradigm shifting to the most personally intimate. Technology advances for the most part unchecked and unabated.

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