Friday, March 07, 2008

ELIZA pioneer Joseph Weizenbaum dies

Joseph Weizenbaum, MIT professor, co-founder of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, and creator of the famous ELIZA psychotherapist program, died at his home in Berlin at age 85, according to EE Times. The ELIZA program is the ur-chatbot from which A.L.I.C.E. and nearly all other chatbot programs are descended. ELIZA introduced the concepts of stimulus-response, pattern matching, and pronoun transformation to natural language processing. Remarkably, Weizenbaum was reportedly "shocked" that MIT students and staff anthropomorphised the simple program. They revealed personal information to the bot in online chats. In response, Weizenbaum spent much of the rest of his career as a critic of computer science in general, and artificial intelligence in particular.

Many others also said that the ELIZA program was not a serious development in natural language processing, and it was derided as a 'toy'. By the late 1990's however it became apparent that massive case-based pattern matching was a practical method for achieving lifelike human-computer conversations, essentially the same techique as ELIZA on a bigger scale. All chat bot developers, not just those of us using AIML, owe a debt of gratitude to the pioneering work of Prof. Weizenbaum.

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