Nick Bostrom established the Institute in November 2005 as part of the Oxford Martin School, then the James Martin 21st Century School, to bring together futures studies researchers. Its research staff reached full capacity in December 2006. Between 2008 and 2010, FHI hosted the Global Catastrophic Risks conference, wrote 22 academic journal articles, and published 34 chapters in academic volumes. FHI researchers gave policy advice at the World Economic Forum, BAE Systems, and Booz Allen Hamilton, as well as to governmental bodies in Sweden, Singapore, Belgium, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Bostrom and bioethicist Julian Savulescu also published the book Human Enhancement in March 2009.
In 2012, the Oxford Martin School ceased funding the Institute, as it transitioned to full support by independent donors. Most recently, FHI has focused on obstacles to space colonization and on the dangers of advanced artificial intelligence (AI). In 2014, its researchers published several books on AI risk, including Stuart Armstrong’s Smarter Than Us and Bostrom’s Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies.