Killer robots and runaway nanotechnology will be taken seriously by leaders of a new institution at Cambridge University. The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk will examine sometimes fantastical threats that could wipe out the human species. Led by Cambridge's philosopher Huw Price, cosmology and astrophysics professor Martin Rees, and Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn, the center will also focus on events like extreme weather or a meteor striking Earth.

“Our goal is to steer a small fraction of Cambridge's great intellectual resources, and of the reputation built on its past and present scientific pre-eminence, to the task of ensuring that our own species has a long-term future,” the founders wrote.

Price and Tallinn recently wrote an article outlining the dangers of artificial intelligence. Though fodder for science fiction for decades, the academics contended that an explosion of robot intelligence is possible and could have dire consequences. If robots were able to learn to be more intelligent than humans and began creating their own hardware and software, humans would simply be left to sit back and watch as people died off, they wrote.

“If that sounds far-fetched, the pessimists say, just ask gorillas how it feels to compete for resources with the most intelligent species – the reason they are going extinct is not (on the whole) because humans are actively hostile towards them, but because we control the environment in ways that are detrimental to their continuing survival,” they wrote.