Cambridge University launches Institute for Technology and Humanity

  • By Mariam Issimdar
  • BBC News, Cambridgeshire

image source, University of Cambridge


Dr. Stephen Cave, director of the new Institute for Technology and Humanity, says we must ensure progress for the benefit of humanity

Cambridge University has created a new Center for Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Technology, which aims to ensure its rapid progress benefits humanity.

The Institute for Technology and Humanities said it wanted to enable researchers to better understand the “double-edged sword” that is AI.

Director Dr. Stephen Cave said he hoped to minimize technological risks.

He said history had shown the need to harness progress for the benefit of people.

“Previous waves of technological transformation helped us thrive as a species, with higher incomes and life expectancies, and more people alive than ever before. But these waves also had enormous costs,” said Dr. Cave.

“The last industrial revolution, for example, fueled the rise of communism and fascism, colonial expansion and the greenhouse gases that now threaten the biosphere.

“Today, both the scale and the speed of technology are greater than ever before.”

He argued that as we get used to the breakneck speed of technological development, we are complacent at the prospect of it undermining our way of life.

image source, Cambridge Filmworks


Research is underway in the Center for Human-Inspired AI, one of the research centers that form the new institute

“Despite dramatic technological advances, there are many things we find difficult to imagine changing, such as social and political systems, and – in a place like Britain – relative peace and prosperity,” said Dr. Cave.

“But the lesson of history is that technology can very easily provoke enormous instability, including the collapse of democracy and full-scale war.

“To avoid this, we need to take such opportunities seriously.”

The Institute for Technology and Humanity brings together three Cambridge centers under one banner and will include historians and philosophers as well as computer scientists and robotics experts.

Its current work includes design toolkits for ethical artificial intelligence, computer vision systems that can help self-driving cars detect hidden pedestrians, and research into the effect of volcanoes on global communication systems.

The institute will see major strands of research on experiences from Covid-19, misuse of generative AI and development of emotion-enhanced AI.

Dr. Cave said: “Disruptive new technologies are always double-edged swords, and there is nothing inevitable about either the triumph or the disaster they cause.

“We need to proactively chart a course for more desirable futures, which is what our new institute has been set up to do.”

Cambridge University’s vice-chancellor, Prof Deborah Prentice, said the institute “took up this challenge of ensuring that human technologies do not exceed and overwhelm human capacities and human needs”.

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