HAL 9000 is a fictional computer in Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey. The computer was a powerful representation of artificial intelligence; HAL was programmed to insure the success of the mission. It was capable of maintaining all systems on the voyage, of reasoning and speech, facial recognition, and natural language processing, as well as lip reading, art appreciation, interpreting emotions, expressing emotions, reasoning, and chess. So, when the astronauts David Bowman and Frank Poole consider disconnecting HAL's cognitive circuits when he appears to be mistaken in reporting the presence of a fault in the spacecraft's communications antenna, HAL gets nervous. Faced with the prospect of disconnection, HAL decides to kill the astronauts in order to protect and continue its programmed directives. Its chilling line "I'm sorry Dave, but this mission is just too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it" made many nervous about the future of artificial intelligence.
We are not at that point of the development of artificial intelligence yet. However, many scientists believe that future advances could lead to problems. For example, medical systems can already interact with patients to simulate empathy. Computer worms and viruses have learned to vary their structure over time to avoid extermination. The concern is an "intelligence explosion" in which smart machines would design even more intelligent machines that humans can neither understand nor control. This is especially a concern if the tools reach the hands of criminals. At a conference by the Association for Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, scientists discussed the issues, the trends and how they could be controlled. There is as yet not agreement among the researchers, and therefore no guidelines. But, it does give one pause for thought.