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Weizenbaum, Creator of ELIZA Program, Dies
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Weizenbaum, Creator of ELIZA Program, Dies



Her name was ELIZA, and to many who interacted with her, she was a great listener. In fact, ELIZA was a computer program — one of the most baffling and controversial early experiments in artificial intelligence. The creator of ELIZA, Joseph Weizenbaum, died last Wednesday. He was 85 years old.

Weizenbaum was a professor at MIT when he created ELIZA in the 1960s. He named her after Eliza Doolittle. His purpose was to study exactly how humans interacted with machines. The program itself seems simple and I'm going to use an enhanced modern version that we found on the Web. I'm looking at a screen and says, hello, I am Eliza and I'm going to type in Eliza, I'm so sleepy. And Eliza asks, how long have you been so sleepy? Good question Eliza. All week. And Eliza is asking me, okay, you're so sleepy, tell me more. Tell me more. Okay, just a lot of work, not enough rest. Poor me.

And Eliza has a very frank question here. Say, do you have any psychological problems? Eliza, how did you guessed? I asked. We we're discussing you not me, she says. Okay, I confess, many, many psychological problems. Just kidding. And Eliza says, come, come, elucidate your thoughts. Where do I begin? I asked her. Eliza is thinking about that. And she's asking me, does that question interest you? Not specially. Eliza says, again, here's your fall back, tell me more.

Well, Joseph Weizenbaum devised ELIZA to play the part of a Rogerian psychotherapist, answering most questions with questions of her own or neutral (unintelligible) like tell me more. But she was convincing enough that a lot of users back in the '60s believed they were talking with a human. And the program sparked a heated cultural debate about the potential of artificial intelligence. A debate put Weizenbaum at odds with many of his colleagues.

In his book, "Computer Power and Human Reason," he argued that computer could not recreate the complexity of the human brain, and while they can't be taught to think, they can never be taught to care.

ELIZA's creator Joseph Weizenbaum died last Wednesday at the age of 85.

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