It may not look like Arnold Schwarzenegger's android assassin, the Terminator, but it could possess a similar killer instinct and the cunning to displace its human masters, Professor Kevin Warwick, of Reading University, said.
Such are the advances in machine intelligence that a computer which can match some of the thinking abilities of humans will be built within the next 50 years. After that, machines will have the capacity to make copies of themselves like living organisms until there comes a point when they can surpass the intellectual feats of most men and women, he said.
"There could be a new form of life on the planet for sure. It's possible. It would be crazy to say it can't happen. If machines can be as intelligent as us then, because of the advantages they have, in years to come they will be more intelligent. Unless we work out ways of clipping extra power on to our brains then we're going to be left behind."
The worst outcome could be that "machines take over", which poses questions about how they would treat less intelligent forms of life, he said.
"How do we treat other animals that are less intelligent than ourselves? We can't rely on intelligent robots being nice and generous when we ourselves are not nice and generous to life forms less intelligent than ourselves," Professor Warwick told the meeting.
"In many well-defined areas we already have machines that are able to outperform us. Take the example of chess, where machines can beat some of the best players in the world. We must open our eyes to the possibility and never say it will never occur. Even if we don't get there, we'll get bloody close."
In the short term there is an enormous amount of benefit. "But if they get more and more intelligent, where does that take us? That's when it becomes more worrying."
Professor Warwick said that "no mathematical or scientific theory is satisfactory enough to tell us that it is not possible for humans to evolve a life form more intelligent than ourselves ... we should prepare ourselves now for a society and future in which a more intelligent life form than ourselves will exist."Reuse content