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An important work, altered beyond recognition., August 5, 2011
In his 1976 discussion of the integration of computers and society, Computermacht und Gesellschaft, Joseph Weizenbaum discusses his fascination with communication: not only how words get transmitted, but why. Why do we choose the words we do? How does one's background and world perception help dictate what those words will be? Perhaps most important: why can we not say specifically what we mean?
Weizenbaum, of course, wrote the ELIZA program in the mid-1960s at MIT as an attempt to satirize how "nondirectional psychotherapists" respond to prospective patients during the initial interview. It was designed to respond in specific ways to keywords typed in by the 'interviewee;' anything it didn't quite understand would generate one of several generic responses, such as "why do you say that?"
Written in SLIP (not BASIC, as is commonly thought), ELIZA was intended more as an exercise in analyzing scripts than as a useful psychoanalytical tool (in fact, Weizenbaum deliberately chose therapy as his canvas so that any 'advice' the program dispensed could be dismissed as being completely subjective). Nevertheless, it became something of a phenomenon, especially among those who used it as 'proof' that artificial intelligence was possible (an idea with which he was never completely comfortable). ELIZA has been translated many times into many different languages (during the 1990s I even had a version of it on my BBS), and therein lies the problem.
Like an international film that has been translated for subtitles and, from that, translated again for overdubs, ELIZA has become so altered and diluted that she no longer resembles herself. In fact, this Inform translation seems, to me, to be even less 'intuitive' than the BASIC version I remember seeing back in the early 1980s. Of course, this cannot be seen as the fault of its translators, as it is (at the very least) an adaptation of an adaptation of an adaptation (which is, in turn, credited to "Anonymous").
Nevertheless, the core idea remains the same, and this is important. At the very least, ELIZA deserves to be remembered and studied, no matter what state she may be in these days.