ELIZA: Free Compu-Therapy...Sort Of

Computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum died earlier this month, reminding us that his most famous creation, the computer program ELIZA, lives on. Weizenbaum created ELIZA in the mid 1960's as a model of "natural language" interaction between a human subject and a computer. ELIZA mimics a talk therapist, rephrasing statements made by the user as open-ended questions, encouraging further discussion. Weizenbaum named his program after Eliza Doolittle, the famous subject of Henry Higgins's tutelage in the play Pygmalion (more popularly known for its musical adaptation, My Fair Lady).

Of course, this human-computer interaction only works to a point, as ELIZA has no real understanding of what the user is saying -- it's just parsing the user's responses into a series of canned responses. Depending on how you respond to ELIZA's questions, you may have a reasonable conversation for several lines, but at some point it will make a strange misstep, tipping you off that there's no intelligence on the other end. For example, here's a conversation I had with an online version of ELIZA:

> Hello, I am Eliza.

* Hello.

> How are you today.. What would you like to discuss?

* My coffee is really bitter this morning.

> I'm not sure I understand you fully.

* Well, okay -- so I made some coffee and I think I did it wrong. It tastes bad.

> Do you really think so?

* Yes.

> Are you Sure?

* Yes, I'm certain.

> Do you believe it is normal to be certain?

* Um...yes?

> Are you Sure?

* Yes, I'm sure.

> Do you enjoy being sure?

ELIZA elicited interesting responses from users in the 1960's. From the Wikipedia article on ELIZA:

In the article "theNewMediaReader" ... he references 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 ELIZA.


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.

You can try ELIZA yourself -- see how far you can take a decent conversation! I like this online version (which, amusingly, offers me ads for psychotherapy in my hometown), or check out this list of other implementations. Computer science students should check out Weizenbaum's original paper on ELIZA.

Jason Dorfman, MIT CSAIL
MIT’s New AI Can Sense Your Movements Through Walls Using Radio Signals
Jason Dorfman, MIT CSAIL
Jason Dorfman, MIT CSAIL

New artificial intelligence technology developed at MIT can see through walls, and it knows what you’re doing.

RF-Pose, created by researchers at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), uses wireless signals to estimate a person’s pose through a wall. It can only come up with a 2D stick figure of your movements, but it can nonetheless see your actions.

The system, described in a new paper [PDF], uses a neural network to piece together radio signals bouncing off the human body. It takes advantage of the fact that the body reflects radio frequency signals in the Wi-Fi range. These Wi-Fi signals can move through walls, but not through people.

Using data from low-power radio signals—1000 times lower than the power your home Wi-Fi router puts out—this algorithm can generate a relatively accurate picture of what the person behind the wall is doing by piecing together the signals reflected by the moving body.

The system can recognize movement in poor lighting and identify multiple different individuals in a scene. Though the technology is still in development, it’s not hard to imagine that the military might use it in surveillance, but the researchers also suggest that it may be useful for video game design and search-and-rescue missions. It might also help doctors monitor and analyze the movements of patients with disorders like Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

This is just the latest in a series of projects using radio signals to mimic X-ray vision. CSAIL has been working on similar technology using Wi-Fi signals for several years, creating algorithms to recognize human forms and see motion through obstructions. In the future, they hope to expand the system to be able to recognize movement with 3D images rather than the current 2D stick figures.

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This $40 Wireless Keyboard is Solar-Powered and Might Just Revolutionize Your Workspace

Meet the $40 solar-powered keyboard that's about to make your life a whole lot easier.

The Logitech K750 Wireless Solar Keyboard can be charged by sunlight as well as artificial lights, like your desk lamp, and stays juiced up for at least three months in total darkness. With this innovative gadget, Logitech is eliminating the annoyances that come with other wireless keyboards, like constantly having to change the batteries or plug it in to recharge. Best of all, the Windows-compatible model is on sale at Amazon for $39.99, down from $59.99. Never fear, Mac users—there's a model for you, too (although it's slightly pricier at $54.88).

(Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy.)

Having a reliable wireless keyboard can save you time and undue stress, whether you work in a cubicle or a home office. Plus, at one third of an inch thick, the keyboard is so sleek that Logitech compares it to typing on a laptop (and Amazon reviewers agree). You can monitor the gadget's power level by downloading the Logitech Solar App for your computer. Setting it up is easy: Just plug the receiver into your computer and you're done. It also comes with a three-year warranty for peace of mind.

solar keyboard

Customers rave about this gadget on Amazon: One person writes that it's "the single best keyboard I have ever owned." Another loyal customer notes, "I first encountered one at work, and I liked it so much that when I switched jobs, I had to get another!"

Take advantage of this deal on Amazon while you can. While you're at it, check out the $95 mattress that Amazon customers are losing their minds over.


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