Example of ELIZA in Emacs.

ELIZA is a computer program and an early example of primitive natural language processing. ELIZA operated by processing users' responses to scripts, the most famous of which was DOCTOR, a simulation of a Rogerian psychotherapist. Using almost no information about human thought or emotion, DOCTOR sometimes provided a startlingly human-like interaction. ELIZA was written at MIT by Joseph Weizenbaum between 1964 to 1966.

When the "patient" exceeded the very small knowledge base, DOCTOR might provide a generic response, for example, responding to "My head hurts" with "Why do you say your head hurts?" The response to "My mother hates me" would be "Who else in your family hates you?" ELIZA was implemented using simple pattern matching techniques, but was taken seriously by several of its users, even after Weizenbaum explained to them how it worked. It was one of the first chatterbots in existence.



Weizenbaum said that ELIZA, running the DOCTOR script, provided a "parody" of "the responses of a nondirectional psychotherapist in an initial psychiatric interview."[1] He chose the context of psychotherapy to "sidestep the problem of giving the program a data base of real-world knowledge",[2] the therapeutic situation being one of the few real human situations in which a human being can reply to a statement with a question that indicates very little specific knowledge of the topic under discussion. For example, it is a context in which the question "Who is your favorite composer?" can be answered acceptably with responses such as "What about your own favorite composer?" or "Does that question interest you?"

ELIZA was named after Eliza Doolittle, a working-class character in George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion, who is taught to speak with an upper-class accent.[3]

First implemented in Weizenbaum's own SLIP list-processing language, ELIZA worked by simple parsing and substitution of key words into canned phrases. Depending upon the initial entries by the user, the illusion of a human writer could be instantly dispelled, or could continue through several interchanges. It was sometimes so convincing that there are many anecdotes about people becoming very emotionally caught up in dealing with DOCTOR for several minutes until the machine's true lack of understanding became apparent.[citation needed]

In 1966, interactive computing (via a teletype) was new. It was 15 years before the personal computer became familiar to the general public, and three decades before most people encountered attempts at natural language processing in Internet services like Ask.com or PC help systems such as Microsoft Office Clippy. Although those programs included years of research and work, ELIZA remains a milestone simply because it was the first time a programmer had attempted such a human-machine interaction with the goal of creating the illusion (however brief) of human-human interaction.

In the 1976 article "Computer Power and Human Reason," an excerpt of which is included in The New Media Reader edited by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort, Weizenbaum notes how quickly and deeply people became emotionally involved with the computer program, taking offence when he asked to view the transcripts, saying it was an invasion of their privacy, even asking him to leave the room while they were working with the DOCTOR script.

Influence on games

ELIZA had an impact on a number of early computer games by demonstrating additional kinds of interface designs. Don Daglow wrote an enhanced version of the program called Ecala on a PDP-10 mainframe computer at Pomona College in 1973 before writing what was possibly the second or third computer role-playing game, Dungeon (1975) (The first was probably "dnd", written on and for the PLATO system in 1974, and the second may have been Moria, written in 1975). It is likely that ELIZA was also on the system where Will Crowther created Colossal Cave (Adventure), the 1975 game that spawned the interactive fiction genre. Both these games appeared some nine years after the original ELIZA.

The 2011 action-RPG Deus Ex: Human Revolution includes among its cast a news media personality named "Eliza Cassan", who is shown interviewing other prominent characters at various points in the game's plot. After the main character, Adam Jensen, hunts her down, she is revealed to be a highly advanced AI.

Response and legacy

Lay responses to ELIZA were disturbing to Weizenbaum and motivated him to write his book Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment to Calculation, in which he explains the limits of computers, as he wants to make clear in people's minds his opinion that the anthropomorphic views of computers are just a reduction of the human being and any life form for that matter. In the independent documentary film Plug & Pray (2010) Weizenbaum said that only people who misunderstood ELIZA called it a sensation.[4]

There are many programs based on ELIZA in different programming languages. For example, in 1980, a company called "Don't Ask Software", founded by Randy Simon, created a version called "Abuse" for the Apple II, Atari, and Commodore PCs, which verbally abused the user based on the user's input.[5] Other versions adapted ELIZA around a religious theme, such as ones featuring Jesus (both serious and comedic) and another Apple II variant called I Am Buddha. The 1980 game The Prisoner incorporated ELIZA-style interaction within its gameplay. George Lucas and Walter Murch incorporated an Eliza-like dialogue interface in their screenplay for the feature film THX-1138 in 1969. Inhabitants of the underground future world of THX would retreat to "confession booths" when stressed, and initiate a one-sided Eliza-formula conversation with a Jesus-faced computer who claimed to be "Omm". In 1988 the British artist and friend of Weizenbaum Brian Reffin Smith created and showed at the exhibition 'Salamandre', in the Musée du Berry, Bourges, France, two art-oriented ELIZA-style programs written in BASIC, one called 'Critic' and the other 'Artist', running on two separate Amiga 1000 computers. The visitor was supposed to help them converse by typing in to 'Artist' what 'Critic' said, and vice versa. The secret was that the two programs were identical.


See also


  1. ^ Weizenbaum 1976, p. 188
  2. ^ Weizenbaum 1976, pp. 188–189
  3. ^ Markoff, John (2008-03-13), "Joseph Weizenbaum, Famed Programmer, Is Dead at 85", The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/13/world/europe/13weizenbaum.html, retrieved 2009-01-07 
  4. ^ Plug & Pray, documentary film featuring Joseph Weizenbaum and Ray Kurzweil
  5. ^ Davidson, Steve (January 1983), "Abuse", Electronic Games 1 (11), http://www.atarimania.com/det_mag_review.php?MAG_REVIEW_ID=86&SOFT_ID=60 [dead link]


External links

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