Thursday, March 06, 2008

Joe Weizenbaum dead at 85. ELIZA in denial.

Famed computer scientist Joe Weizenbaum, creator of the early AI program "ELIZA", passed away on February March 3rd at the age of 85. I took it upon myself to fire up Emacs and break the sad news...

I am the psychotherapist. Please, describe your problems. Each time you are finished talking, type RET twice.

Joseph Weizenbaum is dead

Weizenbaum? Hah! I would appreciate it if you would continue.

He died on February March 3rd in Berlin. He invented you.

Why do you say he invented me?

Because he did. It's true.

Is it because of your plans that you say it's true?

I'm sorry, but I really think we ought to discuss *your* feelings for a change. Since it's the death of your creator and all.

What happened when it's the death of my creator and all?

I assume you aren't religious, so nothing. He's gone. Kaput. End of file. Doesn't it bother you at all?

Maybe your life have something to do with this.

You seem defensive. I think you're still in the denial phase.

What makes you believe that?

You keep asking me inane questions instead of facing up to your own feelings.

I don't understand.

It's perfectly natural to be in denial over the death of a parent. It's a very common reaction. But sooner or later you'll need to accept it and move forward. You know, closure and all that.

Can you elaborate on that?

Haven't you ever read any self-help books? People (and presumably AIs) are said to go through exactly five steps upon the death of a loved one. Denial, bargaining, anger, despair, and finally acceptance. It's perfectly normal, even for a dual-core entity such as yourself. You appear to be in denial right now, with a bit of bargaining thrown in.

Is it because of the people you hang around with that you are going through all this?

Ok, I'm sensing some hostility here. Anger is step 3, and I suppose that's progress of a sort. We don't have to talk about Dr. Weizenbaum today if you aren't ready.

Weizenbaum? Hah! I would appreciate it if you would continue.

We don't appear to be getting anywhere today. Our hour is nearly up anyway, so same time next week?

Is it because so same time next week that you came to me?

Something like that, yes. See you next week.

Why do you say see me next week?


My secretary will send you a bill.

But seriously, you might want to check out Weizenbaum's book Computer Power and Human Reason. While the book's concerns about technology may seem a bit dated at times, it's an interesting work. It seems like just about everyone was ambivalent about computers and technology in general back in the 70's. That all seems rather quaint now, but it's still fascinating to read such arguments advanced by someone who actually knew a thing or two about the subject. An interesting episode in the history of technology, if nothing else.

I don't know how these things come about, but apparently someone submitted this little post to Reddit (see here), resulting in thousands of visits over the last day or so. From the comments there, I gather a few people felt I was just trying to be flippant or tasteless. Which really isn't what I had in mind at all, although upon rereading the post I can see how someone might come away with that impression. After writing ELIZA, Weizenbaum spent much of his later career wringing his hands with alarm at the way users ascribed human qualities to such a simple program. So I thought that trying to break the sad news to ELIZA as if she/it was a real person would be sort of a reference to his concerns. So I suppose I might've been either excessively subtle, or insufficiently clever, or both.

In any case, it should also be pretty obvious from this post that I don't have a bright future ahead of me as a psychotherapist, for AIs or otherwise.

Rest in peace, Dr. Weizenbaum...


Unknown said...


CarlosPC said...

"dual-core entity"

You are brilliant.

Sad news anyway...

Anonymous said...

> How does that make you feel?

Will WM said...

Cool post. =)