With Predator drones bombing villages and robots plugging themselves in, is Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey around the corner? Leading researchers met recently in Monterery Bay, Calif., to address such fears. Runaway superintelligence seems unlikely, they concluded, but speech synthesis technology could aid data-hunting crooks, and autonomous robotic killers are coming—if they're not here already.
Organized by an artificial intelligence association, the conference aimed to tackle tricky questions before robotic science outpaces public concern. Its report, due out this year, will grapple with ethical and legal issues, and may recommend conducting research under tight security. “If you wait too long and the sides become entrenched like with" genetically modified foods, said one chemist, "then it is very difficult. It’s too complex, and people talk right past each other.”