Academics at Cambridge University are pondering the risk to humanity from super-intelligent technology which could "threaten our own existence."
Huw Price, Bertrand Russell Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge, said: "In the case of artificial intelligence, it seems a reasonable prediction that some time in this or the next century intelligence will escape from the constraints of biology."
Professor Price is planning to launch a research centre next year looking into the danger, teaming up with Cambridge professor of cosmology and astrophysics Martin Rees and Jann Tallinn, one of the founders of Skype.
He wants to bring more attention to a future in which mankind might be at the mercy of "machines that are not malicious, but machines whose interests don't include us."
The group won't be the first people to ponder such a future, which has featured in science fiction since the dawn of the computer age, perhaps most famously with HAL- the malevolent computer from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Oddyssey- and most recently in I, Robot, starring Will Smith.
Acknowledging that many people believe his concerns are far-fetched, Professor Price said: "It tends to be regarded as a flaky concern, but given that we don't know how serious the risks are, that we don't know the time scale, dismissing the concerns is dangerous."
He said that advanced technology could be a threat when computers start to direct resources towards their own goals, at the expense of human concerns like environmental sustainability.
He compared the risk to the way humans have threatened the survival of other animals by spreading across the planet and using up natural resources that other animals depend upon.