You’ve probably heard of ChatGPT, a computer program that is trained to follow your instruction and provide a variety of wide ranging responses. As someone that has spent some time actually using the AI, I have to say, the results it produces can be eerily human but, did you know that computer scientists have been working alongside chatbots as early as the 1960s?
It was the late 1960’s and Joseph Weizenbaum, an MIT computer scientist, had just completed work on his revolutionary chatbot ELIZA. Weizenbaum was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1923 and fled the country with his family in 1935 to escape the political turmoil. Weizenbaum came to the United States where his road to computer science would ultimately begin. After time spent in the Air Force, Weizenbaum would go on to study as a computer scientist and eventually work in the industry. You have to remember, computers at that time were not portable devices that could fit in our pockets. In fact, they often barely fit into a room! As an associate Professor at MIT, Weizenbaum became obsessed with the way computers could directly interact with humans through language. It was this early through line between computers and human language that would work to lay the foundation for his own chatbot and eventually lay the groundwork for the AI development of programs such as ChatGPT, Siri and Alexa.
Eliza was completed in 1966 and Weizenbaum offered MIT students the opportunity to interact with the chatbot. This process consisted of messages typed into the computer by students and, responses would then be provided by ELIZA, […] routed to an electronic typewriter and printer. Weizenbaum was initially happy with the response that was garnered from users’ experience with ELIZA but, there was one thing he did begin to notice that he viewed as considerably concerning. Overtime, Weizenbaum made note of users starting to divulge deep personal information, looking for help similar to that of a therapy session. This observation ended up pushing Weizenbaum to advocate for caution when relying too heavily on computers for human thought…
“There are aspects to human life that a computer cannot understand—cannot. It’s necessary to be a human being. Love and loneliness have to do with the deepest consequences of our biological constitution. That kind of understanding is in principle impossible for the computer.”
New York Times
May 8, 1977
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