The researchers...generally discounted the possibility of highly centralized superintelligences and the idea that intelligence might spring spontaneously from the Internet. But they agreed that robots that can kill autonomously are either already here or will be soon.-- from NYT report about a conference organized in Asilomar by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence.
They focused particular attention on the specter that criminals could exploit artificial intelligence systems as soon as they were developed...
...Despite his concerns, [Eric] Horvitz [the conference organizer] said he was hopeful that artificial intelligence research would benefit humans, and perhaps even compensate for human failings. He recently demonstrated a voice-based system that he designed to ask patients about their symptoms and to respond with empathy. When a mother said her child was having diarrhea, the face on the screen said, “Oh no, sorry to hear that.”
A physician told him afterward that it was wonderful that the system responded to human emotion. “That’s a great idea,” Dr. Horvitz said he was told. “I have no time for that.”
P.S. 27 July: New Scientist report.