About the Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology

The nature of technological advancement

Over long historical timescales, technological advancement has been a major driver of social change. Some technology transitions, such as those involved in the agricultural and the industrial revolutions, have profoundly affected the human condition. There is a common perception that the rate of technological innovation and change is speeding up. Some have argued that the acceleration is such that degrees of technological change that in ancient times might have taken hundreds or thousands of years to unfold might happen over the course of decades in our century. Clearly, if there is any truth to this perception, it is important to understand the nature of the change that is occurring and where it might lead.

an AGI group meeting

What We Do

Established in September 2011, The Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology studies possibilities of transformative technological changes and the potential implications of such changes. Although the Programme does not confine its attention to some predetermined temporal interval, most of the prospects that it explores are presumably located several decades out. It thereby complements efforts by other institutes within the School, such as the Future of Humanity Institute; the Institute of the Future of Computing, the Oxford University Computing Laboratory (Professor Bill Roscoe) and the Oxford e-Research Centre (Professor Anne Trefethen); the Institute for Science and Ethics (Professor Julian Savulescu); and other Oxford Martin School Institutes which examine the near to medium-term future.

The Programme examines the limits to technology and the ultimate capabilities that might be attained, working back towards the present time, meeting in the middle and linking up with the efforts of these other institutes which are, so to speak, starting from an examination of the present and extrapolating into the future.

The heart of the matter

The Programme’s research also studies foundational questions as they arise in the context of analyses of future transformative technological change. Such analyses intersect numerous issues in applied epistemology, ethics, philosophy of technology, philosophy of history, as well as some philosophical issues in the philosophy of mind and in the foundations of computer science. Any methodologically sophisticated discussion of the possibilities for long-range technological change and its implications for the human condition cannot avoid engaging these foundational issues.