Skip to main content

Programmes Future Technology

Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology

The start of the 21st century has been marked by rapid technological development, with widespread impacts for both individuals and society. The nature of our workforce, how we fight wars, the risks posed by disease, and even our bodies and brains are all being transformed by new technology, and we can expect the future to bring even more dramatic changes.

As our rate of technological innovation accelerates, it is vital to understand the nature of technological change, its directions and possible impacts for humanity. Our aim is to usefully predict and analyse the long-range trajectories and limitations of transformative technologies, and establish how best to prepare for the societal impacts - both positive and negative - that they will bring.

Developing better theoretical tools for understanding the nature of technological change will help us to anticipate its impacts ahead of time, enabling us to formulate predictions for near-, mid- and long-term horizons. This will allow us to develop practical recommendations for policy makers, industry leaders and even the public on how to prepare for changes ahead.

The programme brings together experts from a diverse range of fields, including moral philosophy, artificial intelligence, decision theory, genomics, economics, nanotechnology, ecology and computational neuroscience. We take a long-term vision of the future, looking ahead to thirty, forty or fifty years from now, and combine detailed study of specific technologies, such as machine superintelligence, with broader analysis of others, including human enhancement, synthetic biology and biosecurity, and surveillance technology. We conduct philosophical and interdisciplinary analysis of deep theoretical issues in technological change, investigating issues such as how to better predict the dynamics of change, and how technological progress can best be guided so as to realise benefits while avoiding catastrophic risks.

Selected research

Technology and employment: Carl Frey’s collaboration with Michael Osborne (Associate Professor in Machine Learning, Department of Engineering Science) led to the widely-cited ‘The Future of Employment: how susceptible are jobs to computerisation?’. The paper has received widespread attention from media, the public and policymakers. In collaboration with Thor Berger, Carl Frey has carried out further studies on the impact of radical technological shifts on urban development – please see his page for a list of publications.

Artificial intelligence: The publication of Nick Bostrom’s book Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies in 2014 helped to shift the global view of artificial intelligence and our control over it. The book presents the most rigorous analysis to date of the future trajectories of artificial intelligence, while examining the potential socio-economic impacts and risks associated with the technology. A New York Times bestseller, Superintelligence has been recommended by influential figures including Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Lord Martin Rees, with Musk going on to make a personal donation of $10m to fund the study of AI risk. The success of Superintelligence and other work by programme members has confirmed the programme as leading the academic field of the study of the risks of artificial intelligence.