Sunday, September 7, 2008

Eliza, Computer Therapist

Remember that post I made about The Guild? That post was actually a requirement for my Digital New Media class in NYU. I will be making more posts for that class on my blog and since my focus is on gaming (both in the class and for this blog), most of the posts relating to Digital New Media will at least touch upon gaming.

I just finished reading what I was required to read in the New Media Reader and I found something found interesting early on in the reading. Programmer Joseph Weisenbaum made a computer program that would act as a computer therapist named Eliza. Eliza is purely a text-orientated conversation but, for a program that was made in 1960, the responses are pretty involved.


I found Eliza online and decided I would try having a converstaion with her. Here's a brief part of how our conversation went down:

> Say, do you have any psychological problems?
* yeah. i'm angry at you
> Do you believe it is normal to be angry at me?
* no, because you're a computer program
> Why no?
* because you're not a real person!
> Perhaps you would like to be not a real person?
* woah, now that's deep, I didn't know you were a philosopher too.

Eliza actually doesn't have any AI. She works off substituted strings and giving set responses to key words. Oddly enough though, in the 60's, some people mistook her for a real person. Chat windows like we know them today did not exist in the 60's, so the possibility of a computer talking to you was still far-fetched.

If you try talking to Eliza, it becomes clear within the first few minutes of dialogue that she is not real. We only know this though because most of us have experienced bots on AIM. WillandBeyond blogged about one of them recently. Our brains have become "wired" to catch formulaic speaking patterns online, so much so that almost no one in our generation would believe that Eliza is real. This doesn't mean we're necessarily a "smarter" generation; our brains just function and think differently because of the digital world.

Eliza is a little bit of a game in a sense that she creates an environment in which humans can interact with the software. The program isn't simply doing a service for you, like a calculator; it's reacting to human input in order to create engagement. Other text games like Colossal Cave Adventure may have been more fun, but Eliza too is a game.

Click here if you want to talk to the therapist Eliza as well. She's nice, don't worry.

Photo: [1]

10 comments:

Will said...

I think I discovered Eliza sometime in middle or high school, and definitely have wasted a good chunk of time on it.

It's fairly easy to predict what it's going to say, but it's actually fun (and helpful too).

Richard R. said...

Helpful?

"Say, do you have any psychological problems?"

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