Johnian to head-up pioneering new research centre to study the future of artificial intelligence

With technology and science on the brink of significant advances in artificial intelligence, Zoubin Ghahramani, Professor of Information Engineering and a Fellow of St John's College, has been appointed Deputy Director of a new multi-million-pound research centre to study the challenges and possibilities of the future of intelligence.

Some researchers suggest that human-level artificial intelligence (AI) will be developed in computers within this century and, in the words of Professor Stephen Hawking, “when it eventually does occur, it is likely to be either the best or worst thing ever to happen to humanity, so there’s huge value in getting it right”. 

With the aim of “getting it right” in mind, a new interdisciplinary research centre that brings together computer scientists, philosophers, social scientists and others to examine the technical, practical and philosophical questions artificial intelligence raises for humanity, in both the near and distant future, is to be launched. 

Speaking of the project, Professor Zoubin Ghahramani said: "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 Centre, named The Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence, is to be established thanks to an unprecedented £10 million grant awarded to the University of Cambridge from the Leverhulme Trust.  It is being set up in response to the Leverhulme Trust's call for "bold, disruptive thinking, capable of creating a step-change in our understanding".

The Leverhulme Trust awarded the grant to Cambridge for a proposal developed with the Executive Director of the University's Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER), Dr Seán Ó hÉigeartaigh. CSER investigates emerging risks to humanity's future including climate change, disease, warfare and technological revolutions.

Dr Ó hÉigeartaigh said: "The Centre is intended to build on CSER's pioneering work on the risks posed by high-level AI and place those concerns in a broader context, looking at themes such as different kinds of intelligence, responsible development of technology and issues surrounding autonomous weapons and drones."

The Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence spans institutions, as well as disciplines. It is a collaboration led by the University of Cambridge with links to the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford, Imperial College London, and the University of California, Berkeley. It is also supported by Cambridge's Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH).

The Centre aims to lead the global conversation about the opportunities and challenges to humanity that lie ahead in the future of AI. Huw Price, the Bertrand Russell Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge and Director of the Centre, said:  "With far-sighted alumni such as Charles Babbage, Alan Turing, and Margaret Boden, Cambridge has an enviable record of leadership in this field, and I am delighted that it will be home to the new Leverhulme Centre".