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Database Nation by Simson Garfinkel

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Eliza And Her Children

The first computer program that masqueraded as a human was ELIZA, developed by Joe Weizenbaum at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory . ELIZA was a simple simulacrum of human intelligence. Weizenbaum wrote the program in the early 1960s, when the rest of the AI Lab was trying to make computers that could actually understand the English language. But that was too hard. Instead of trying to make a computer that was intelligent, Weizenbaum decided to write a computer program that merely appeared intelligent. "I took all of my tricks, put them in a bundle, and started this ELIZA business," he told AI historian Daniel Crevier.[1]

ELIZA was a very simple program that pretended to be a Rogerian psychotherapist—a therapist trained in the school of psychiatry founded by Carl Rogers. The Rogerian technique consists solely of encouraging patients to talk about their problems and answering questions with other questions. ELIZA basically took whatever input a person typed, searched out parts of speech like verbs and nouns, turned the sentences around, and sent them back. You might tell ELIZA "My boyfriend made me come here," and it would ask "Why did your boyfriend make you come here?" If ELIZA was stumped, the program might go back to an earlier topic of conversation, or try to elicit a response with a canned message like "Why did you come here today?"

To a trained computer scientist or linguist, ELIZA was not a very sophisticated program. But to the untrained observer, ...

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