42 years of Eliza

I just realized that about 42 years ago the well known and often misperceived computer program Eliza was published. It was written by computer science legend Joseph Weizenbaum, who sadly past away a month ago.

Elizas' most commonly known implementation "Doctor" resembles a conversation between a psychologist and her patient. Basically everything the user says is rephrased into a question by some pattern matching algorithms. The algorithms used in Eliza are actually pretty simple and fit into some hundreds lines of code. No world knowledge or databases to store the conversation are needed.

The program was never intended to serve as surrogate for real psychotherapists. In fact Weizenbaum wanted to show how easy it is to create the illusion of "intelligent" computers and he was shocked when he realized that many people took his simple set of transformation rules so serious, that they even asked him to leave the room while talking to it.

Buchcover 'Die Macht der Computer und die Ohnmacht der Vernunft.'Weizenbaum became a critic of computers and especially a critic of a society that heavily depends on computers and accepts their judgment without doubt, as little errors in small parts of a complex system may lead to fatal consequences.

I strongly recommend reading his famous article "Albtraum Computer" (german) and maybe his book linked on the right.

I think his concerns are especially true today and our society should be extremely careful about how far we trust computer generated no-fly lists, bombing target optimization systems, and automated tools for stock market evaluation.

Have fun with the JavaScript version of Eliza after the page-break and feel free to post your funniest dialogs with Eliza as a comment.


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