Developer: Joseph Weizenbaum
Release date: 1966 January
Platform: Mainframe ( IBM 7094 )
More info: Browser version, Wikipedia, History of Chatbots, An article from the creator
Eliza was the first chatterbot to make a splash in popular culture, originally written and conceived by Dr. Joseph Weizenbaum of MIT in 1966 to mockingly ape the style of a person-centered (Rogerian) psychotherapist or counselor, largely by prompting the user to elaborate on topics sampled from previous user input.
A typical session would take the form of a typed dialogue (sometimes with simulated typing errors to further the suspension of disbelief), with the computer asking the user a series of questions and being fed responses from which to generate further questions.
The game stimulated early consideration of computer artificial intelligence (or the appearance thereof), not infrequently passing the Turing test and fooling users into believing (for a little while, at least) that they were interacting with a real human being on the other end… blazing a trail subsequently followed down by Perry the Paranoid and Racter.
Additionally, the nods its conversational interface made toward natural language processing (or, again, the appearance thereof) are considered to have been influential on the early mainframe development of the interface for text adventure games such as Adventure and Zork.
Considered as a game, it is nearly the polar opposite to Emily Short’s Galatea — instead of the player probing the computer with questions, the computer probes the player with them. Many different stories will still be revealed, but in this case, that’s because it’ll be people tricked by the program into telling them.
It seemed real…
Some of ELIZA’s responses were so convincing that Weizenbaum and several others have anecdotes of users becoming emotionally attached to the program, occasionally forgetting that they were conversing with a computer.
Weizenbaum’s own secretary reportedly asked Weizenbaum to leave the room so that she and ELIZA could have a real conversation. Weizenbaum was surprised by this, later writing, “I had not realized … that extremely short exposures to a relatively simple computer program could induce powerful delusional thinking in quite normal people.
In 1966, interactive computing (via a teletype) was new. It was 15 years before the personal computer became familiar to the general public, and three decades before most people encountered attempts at natural language processing in Internet services like Ask.com or PC help systems such as Microsoft Office Clippit. Although those programs included years of research and work, ELIZA remains a milestone simply because it was the first time a programmer had attempted such a human-machine interaction with the goal of creating the illusion (however brief) of human-human interaction.
At the ICCC 1972 ELIZA met another early artificial intelligence program named PARRY and had a computer-only conversation. While ELIZA was built to be a “Doctor” PARRY was intended to simulate a patient with schizophrenia.
The game named after the character of Eliza Doolittle from George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion (also known through its musical theatre adaptation, My Fair Lady), a lower-class denizen of the British streets who achieves upward social mobility after being taught to speak with a more refined accent.