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.

The Design Tricks That Make Smartphones Addictive—And How to Fight Them

Two and a half billion people worldwide—and 77 percent of Americans—have smartphones, which means you probably have plenty of company in your inability to go five minutes without checking your device. But as a new video from Vox points out, it's not that we all lack self-control: Your phone is designed down to the tiniest details to keep you as engaged as possible. Vox spoke to Tristan Harris, a former Google design ethicist, who explains how your push notifications, the "pull to refresh" feature of certain apps (inspired by slot machines), and the warm, bright colors on your phone are all meant to hook you. Fortunately, he also notes there's things you can do to lessen the hold, from the common sense (limit your notifications) to the drastic (go grayscale). Watch the whole thing to learn all the dirty details—and then see how long you can spend without looking at your phone.

New Lobster Emoji Gets Updated After Mainers Noticed It Was Missing a Set of Legs

When the Unicode Consortium released the designs of the latest batch of emojis in early February, the new lobster emoji was an instant hit. But as some astute observers have pointed out, Unicode forgot something crucial from the initial draft: a fourth set of legs.

As Mashable reports, Unicode has agreed to revise its new lobster emoji to make it anatomically accurate. The first version of the emoji, which Maine senator Angus King had petitioned for in September 2017, shows what looks like a realistic take on a lobster, complete with claws, antennae, and a tail. But behind the claws were only three sets of walking legs, or "pereiopods." In reality, lobsters have four sets of pereiopods in addition to their claws.

"Sen. Angus King from Maine has certainly been vocal about his love of the lobster emoji, but was kind enough to spare us the indignity of pointing out that we left off two legs," Jeremy Burge, chief emoji officer at Emojipedia and vice-chair of the Unicode Emoji Subcommittee, wrote in a blog post. Other Mainers weren't afraid to speak up. After receiving numerous complaints about the oversight, Unicode agreed to tack two more legs onto the lobster emoji in time for its release later this year.

The skateboard emoji (which featured an outdated design) and the DNA emoji (which twisted the wrong way) have also received redesigns following complaints.

[h/t Mashable]


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