Skip to main content

Programmes Future Technology

Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology

What are we doing?
We are developing new research into the impact on societies of transformative technological change and the implications of the development of disruptive technologies, including extreme computing and the longer term implications of advances in the biosciences.

Why is it important?
Technological advancement has always been a major driver of social change. As our rate of technological innovation accelerates, it is vital to understand the nature of technological change, its directions and possible impacts for humanity.

How are we different?
We take a long term vision of the future, looking ahead to thirty, forty or fifty years from now. By examining the advances possible for technology and the capabilities that might be attained, we can gain an understanding of the implications for society and gain a better understanding of our present trajectories. Our long-term, multidisciplinary approach brings fresh perspectives to understanding the potential for transformational technological change and its implications for the nature of work, leisure and employment and broader societal relations.

Projects

Changing Rates of Change: focuses on the need to be more precise about technological change – what kind of changes are we facing, how fast is change happening and how can it be measured? Growth rates matter because they lead to widely different predictions about how much change we can expect to see within our lifetime and how it will relate to other ongoing trends.

Automation and complexity barriers: looks at the pace and limits of automation. This project is investigating and seeking to clarify the plausibility of scenarios that postulate major advances in various types of machine intelligence and to cast light on issues that arise in the context of the future of automation of physical processes such as via molecular nanotechnology.

Machine intelligence capabilities and safety: critically assesses the prospect of breakthroughs in the effort to achieve artificial general intelligence. Even if the probability is small, careful analysis is still called for since the potential impacts would be among the most consequential of any conceivable technological developments. The programme’s work in this area has a strong focus on ethical and philosophical issues associated with potential advances in machine intelligence, and on the economic consequences and security concerns that might be raised by different levels of capability.

Novel applications and unexpected societal impacts - predictability horizons: investigates general epistemic and ethical issues that arise from the prospect of technological innovation, particularly the possibility of discontinuous technological breakthroughs or of novel, unanticipated applications. It also looks at the challenges of wise policy formulation under conditions of unpredictable, rapid, and potentially disruptive technological change.

Existential risks and future technologies: seeks to characterize the existential risks threatening humanity’s future, linking many of the largest risks to potential advances in fields such as biotechnology, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and “neurotechnologies”. The focus is not on present-day capabilities or any advances that can be expected within the next few years, but rather on potential advances that might take place several decades from now.