ELIZA was an early chatbot developed by MIT’s Joseph Weizenbaum from 1964 to 1966. It adopted multiple personae through various sets of scripts that searched for keywords and then reused these keywords according to programmed rules (Weizenbaum 1966). ELIZA’s most well-known script, called DOCTOR, transformed ELIZA into a Rogerian psychotherapist. In the DOCTOR script, ELIZA turned users’ input statements into open-ended questions that encouraged users to input more text that continued the conversational cycle. One example of a conversation with ELIZA follows (ELIZA’s responses are in capitals):
Men are all alike.
IN WHAT WAY
They’re always bugging us about something or other.
CAN YOU THINK OF A SPECIFIC EXAMPLE
Well, my boyfriend made me come here.
YOUR BOYFRIEND MADE YOU COME HERE
He says I’m depressed much of the time.
I AM SORRY TO HEAR YOU ARE DEPRESSED
It’s true. I am unhappy. (Weizenbaum 1966, 36-37)
Following user observation, Weizenbaum remarked that ELIZA’s users often willingly suspended their knowledge of ELIZA’s lack of humanity. To cite Weizenbaum:
All ELIZA or the fortune-teller need do is give responses that are sufficiently plausible and that allow a sufficient scope for interpretation to make such constructions possible. And, since the subject cannot probe the true limits of ELIZA’s capacities (he has, after all, only a limited time to play with it, and it is constantly getting new material from him), he cannot help but attribute more power to it than it actually has. Besides, he knows that ELIZA was constructed by a professor at a university. It is therefore clothed in the magical mantle of Science and all of Science’s well-known powers may be attributed to it (Weizenbaum, 1976, 190-191).
Writing from a media studies perspective, Simone Natale has observed that ELIZA has successfully ‘deceived’ the public through this genealogy: the program not only deceived its direct users, but has also deceived those who consider it to exhibit true artificial intelligence. Natale argues that ELIZA has achieved elevated historical status through its cultural narratives about it (Natale). To support this argument, Natale cites the work of Mark Marino, who summarises a survey of chatbot developers and users by noting that ELIZA has maintained its status as ‘the progenitor, a gold standard, and the relic, a significant touchstone in current evaluations of chatbots’ (Marino 8).
Landsteiner, Norbert. “Eliza (elizabot.js).” mass:werk, 2015, https://www.masswerk.at/elizabot.
Landsteiner, Norbert. “Eliza Terminal.” mass:werk, 2015, https://www.masswerk.at/elizabot/eliza.html.
Marino, Mark C. I, Chatbot: The Gender and Race Performativity of Conversational Agents. University of California, 2006.
Natale, Simone. "If software is narrative: Joseph Weizenbaum, artificial intelligence and the biographies of ELIZA." New Media & Society, vol. 21, no. 3, 2019, pp. 712-728.
Shrager, Jeff. The Genealogy of Eliza, elizagen.org.
Weizenbaum, Joseph. Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment to Calculation. W. H. Freeman and Company, 1976.
Weizenbaum, Joseph. “ELIZA - A Computer Program for the Study of Natural Language Communication Between Man and Machine” Communications of the ACM, 1966, pp. 36-45.