In 1920 Czech writer Karel Kapek wrote a science-fiction play whose title translated into English as Rossum’s Universal Robots or R.U.R. When it premiered in 1921, it introduced the word ‘Robot’ to the English language and to the science fiction genre. By 1923, it had been translated into 30 languages.

The robots in R.U.R. are closer in nature to cyborgs or androids. Manufactured from synthetic organic materials and capable of independent thought, they are at first content to serve the humans they so closely resemble – but ultimately rebel and wipe them out as useless impediments to their own existence.

Now that we are on the brink of manufacturing our own destruction in so many arenas, dozens of prominent leaders in science and technology have issued a letter warning of the need to guide the development and use of AI so that it serves us in all the ways that it is capable rather than replaces us in all the functions that create social purpose and cohesion.

Among those issuing the warning are Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk (the physicist founder of SpaceX and Tesla Motors), Nobel Prize Frank Wilczek of MIT, and other top researchers at universities and tech institutions, including Google.

The signers of the Open Letter, published on-line by FLI – the Future of Life Institute – have also issued a document, dated 1.11.15, titled, “Research priorities for robust and beneficial artificial intelligence.” Their executive summary reads as follows:

“Success in the quest for artificial intelligence has the potential to bring unprecedented benefits to humanity, and it is therefore worthwhile to research how to maximize these benefits while avoiding potential pitfalls. This document gives numerous examples (which should by no means be construed as an exhaustive list) of such worthwhile research aimed at ensuring that AI remains robust and beneficial.”

You can read the full letter and the recommended priorities, view the prominent signatories, and add your own signature as well at http://futureoflife.org/misc/open_letter

In mid-December of 2014, Hawking warned that AI could “spell the end of the human race.” Also in 2014, Musk, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, and actor Ashton Kutcher, who portrayed Steve Jobs in the 2013 biopic, collectively invested $40 million dollars in an AI company that is working to create an artificial human brain.