We'll Soon Have You Cured
IN 1966, MIT'S JOSEPH Weizenbaum wrote a passive-aggressive FORTRAN program called Eliza. Eliza simulated particularly annoying (Carl Rogersstyle) psychoanalytic interviews that emphasized anti-argumentation and snide rephrasings of the patient's statements as questions: And how do you feel about your suicidal ideations? -- that kind of thing. On the other hand, Eliza didn't say, "This is Doctor Eliza" when making restaurant reservations and expect genuflections, nor did Eliza sit aristocratically with legs crossed at the knee and say "Mm-hm" while scribbling misdiagnoses (that took Freud thousands of sleepless nights and a good 6 pounds of cocaine to conjure) in an expensive burgundy leather-bound notebook, checking its watch. Over the years, hundreds of bleary-eyed artificial-intelligence buffs have adapted Eliza for various studies and self-absorptions. Tom Bender, for example, author of the popular shareware text editor Tex-Edit Plus, wrote a Macintosh Eliza for no good reason at all. Let's take version 6.0.1 for a spin:
HELLO. MY NAME IS ELIZA. WHAT'S YOURS?
OH BOY, DO YOU SEEM TENSE! WHAT'S THE PROBLEM, DAVE?
WHY DON'T YOU ELABORATE ON THAT.
Too tense to elaborate, you know?
YES, I DO. SO WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO WITH THIS KNOWLEDGE?
Charge me a hundred bucks an hour.
YOU'RE DOING WELL. PLEASE CONTINUE.
I'm doing well?
DO YOU THINK MANY PEOPLE CARE THAT YOU ARE DOING WELL.
I'm not sure.
YOU AREN'T? YOU CERTAINLY FOOLED ME.
Is that your stock response to an "I'm not sure" response?
APPARENTLY, YOU DON'T BELIEVE THAT IS MY STOCK RESPONSE TO SOME "I'M NOT SURE" RESPONSE, DO YOU?
No; I do. I wonder just the opposite, Eliza. Or was it Dave?
[Eliza excuses herself and returns a moment later with two fresh hot nice cups of coffee, a tray of petits fours and several crisp white linen napkins.]
I HOPE YOU DON'T MIND IF WE CHANGE THE SUBJECT. IT MAY HELP TO VENT NEGATIVE EMOTIONS.
And what subject would you like?
AND WHATEVER YOU'D LIKE.
No; please: whatever YOU'D like.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
You go first.
I THINK WE SHOULD DISCUSS YOUR PROBLEMS FIRST.
Exactly. You start.
EVERYONE GETS UPSET SOMETIMES.
I'm not upset. I just don't want to start. You start, and I'll happily respond.
ARE YOU UPSET WITH ME?
No, I'm not upset with you. I was just hoping you might approach things from an unexplored angle.
ANGER IS OFTEN USED TO MASK UNDERLYING FEAR.
Exactly how much disk space do you take up?
JUST TALKING ABOUT YOUR PROBLEMS CAN HELP SORT THEM OUT.
All right. You want to know about my problems?
YOU SEEM VERY SURE OF YOURSELF. HOW DOES THIS CERTAINTY FEEL?
About a notch above automaton on the evolutionary scale.
I SENSE SOME HOSTILITY HERE.
Yes you do, there, sport.
PROBLEMS ARE BEST SOLVED IN A CALM AND RATIONAL MANNER.
Is software a calm and rational manner?
"Uh, huh"? I'm not paying a hundred bucks an hour for "uh-huh." I'll tell you that right now, apparently.
SORRY, BUT I DON'T UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU'RE TRYING TO SAY.
I'm questioning the value of static logic in as evasive a way as I know how.
I AGREE THAT YOU PROBABLY KNOW HOW FOR A FACT.
So you're saying you're crazy?
I GUESS I MUST BE, IF YOU SAY SO, DAVE.
So you're saying I'm crazy?
SO, DAVE, DO YOU EVER SEE THINGS THAT AREN'T REALLY THERE?
You mean like medical insurance?
WHAT ABOUT YOURSELF, DAVE?
I see myself. In fact, I've been seeing only myself for a few years now, and that's what I came here to talk with you about.
THAT'S ENOUGH FOR TODAY. DON'T FORGET OUR NEXT APPOINTMENT.
But you said we could do a double session this week. You even put it in writing and signed it. Look.
[Eliza empties hot coffee into patient's lap, offers napkin and exits.]
Tom Bender's Eliza (http://www.nearside.com/trans-tex/software/eliza6.0.1.sit.hqx) is Macintosh shareware ($5) and takes up just 115K. If you have Apple's Speech Manager installed, Eliza will interrogate you in the voice of your choice. (Bender also wrote an even more annoying version called Azile [http://www.nearside.com/trans-tex/software/azile4.5.sit.hqx], which I don't recommend, but perhaps you're more tolerant.)
And you thought Sisyphus had it rough: Nakano Advanced Robotics Lab presents a 1.2MB MPEG documenting ZhiDong Wang's 1995 Ph.D. thesis, Cooperating Multiple Behavior-Based Robots for Object Manipulation (http://canary.robotics.is.tohoku.ac.jp/lab/robot/bbrobots-1/mpeg/BeRoSH-AssemblyTask.mpeg). Open it in your registered QuickTime program, set to Loop Back and Forth, then spend eight to 10 hours a day, five days a week, watching the cooperation between multiple behavior-based robots as they manipulate an object. Just like in Century City.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss LA Weekly's biggest stories.