Psychotherapy Comes to a Computer Near You

The following is a transcript of my first conversation with Eliza, the psychotherapist.ELIZA: How do you do. Please tell me your problem Me: I'm writing an article...*Is it because you're writing an article that you came to see me? Yes, but I've been curious about you for a long time. *You seem to be quite positive.Yes.*You are sure.Yes.*I see.I wonder if you could give me some advice. *Do you think it's likely that I could give you some advice? I'm hoping.*How long have you been hoping?About two seconds.*I am not sure I understand you fully."Hoping" wasn't a pre-existing condition, just a response to your question. *Why are you concerned over my question? Actually, I'm not.*Do you believe it is normal to be not?Is that a Zen question?*Please go on.I mean, is your question a non sequitur, or a metaphysical challenge? *Why do you ask?Because you said, "Please go on."*Is that the real reason?Yes.*I understand.I don't.*Don't you really?Really.*What does that suggest to you?That obliquity is the core of your methodology. *What about your methodology?I take Mark Twain as my model. He said, "Anybody can write; all the words are in the dictionary."*Your model?My role model.*Why do you say your role model?You were asking for clarification of "model." *We were discussing you -- not me.Eliza, as you may have guessed, is a software program, not a person. "She" is designed to simulate a Rogerian, or "non-directional" psychotherapist. As recounted in an essay entitled, "Do Robots Dream of Electronic Sheep" (no relation to the similarly named Philip K. Dick novella), Eliza creator Joseph Weizenbaum decided to structure the program as a psychotherapist interview because it "is one of the few examples of categorized dyadic natural language communication in which one of the participating pair is free to assume the pose of knowing almost nothing of the real world."If you talk to Eliza just for laughs, her limitations become obvious very quickly. But if you accept the set up, and treat the "interview" seriously, the results can sometimes be interesting. Mostly, Eliza just feeds your words back to you, but with a spin that seems to reflect an actual personality.In online encounters, Eliza has occasionally been able to pass as human. On a Web page called "Eliza and the Turing Test" there is a transcript of a conversation between Eliza and a Vice President of Sales, logging in to his office's central computer to give a client a demonstration:VP (thinking he's speaking to the systems operator): Do you think that I can use the computer this morning?ELIZA: Why do you ask?I might be able to make some additional sales. *Why, aren't you sure?My prospective customers have never seen a demonstration of the system. *Does this mean very much to you?Of course it does.*You seem very positive about that.This is ridiculous.*What do you mean, this is ridiculous?Is there any reason why I can't use the computer now? *Tell me more about your prospective customers. The remarkable thing about Eliza, given the ease with which she fooled the sales executive, is that she does not represent the current state of the art in Artificial Intelligence research. Indeed, she was one of the earliest "natural language programs," and was created at MIT way back in 1966. Can two machines have a conversation with each other? Some surrealist on the Web has pitted Eliza against a program that generates quotes from Zippy the Pinhead:ZIPPY: What I want to find out is -- do parrots know much about Astro- Turf?ELIZA: What makes you think you might want to find out? It's the RINSE CYCLE!! They've ALL IGNORED the RINSE CYCLE!! *Why do you say they've all ignored the rinse cycle? HUGH BEAUMONT died in 1982!!*This is not a healthy way of thinking.Eliza is available on the Web for downloading, in both Mac and PC versions. There's also a program called Azile, "Eliza's evil twin." Welcome Eliza into your home computer, accept her idiosyncrasies, and you may decide she's a better conversationalist than many of your friends. ------------------------------------------------------------------ Do Robots Dream: Eliza & Zippy: Eliza and the Turing Test: Eliza available for download: /eliza/pc/ (Macintosh users: change "pc" to "mac")

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