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ELIZA: Free Compu-Therapy...Sort Of

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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.

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Wired, YouTube
Watch This Robot Crack a Safe in 15 Minutes
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Wired, YouTube

When Nathan Seidle was gifted a locked safe with no combination from his wife, he did what any puzzlemaster—or, rather, what any engineer with a specific set of expertise in locks and robotics—would do: He built a robot to crack the safe. Seidle is the founder of SparkFun, an electronics manufacturer based in Denver, and this gift seemed like the perfect opportunity to put his professional knowledge to the test.

The process of building a safecracking robot involved a lot of coding and electronics, but it was the 3D printing, he said, that became the most important piece. Seidle estimated that it would take four months to have the robot test out different combinations, but with one major insight, he was able to shave off the bulk of this time: While taking a closer look at the combination dial indents, he realized that he could figure out the third digit of the combination by locating the skinniest indent. Thanks to this realization, he was soon able to trim down the number of possible combinations from a million to a thousand.

Watch the video from WIRED below to see Seidle's robot in action, which effectively whittled a four-month safecracking project down to an impressive 15-minute job.

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Big Questions
How Does Autopilot Work on an Airplane?
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How does autopilot work on an airplane?

Joe Shelton:

David Micklewhyte’s answer is a good one. There are essentially a few types of features that different autopilots have. Some autopilots only have some of these features, while the more powerful autopilots do it all.

  • Heading Hold: There’s a small indicator that the pilot can set on the desired heading and the airplane will fly that heading. This feature doesn’t take the need for wind correction to desired routing into account; that’s left to the pilot.
  • Heading and Navigation: In addition to holding a heading, this version will take an electronic navigation input (e.g. GPS or VOR) and will follow (fly) that navigation reference. It’s sort of like an automated car in that it follows the navigator’s input and the pilot monitors.
  • Altitude Hold: Again, in addition to the above, a desired altitude can be set and the aircraft will fly at that altitude. Some autopilots have the capability for the pilot to select a desired altitude and a climb or descent rate and the aircraft will automatically climb or descend to that altitude and then hold the altitude.
  • Instrument Approaches: Autopilots with this capability will fly preprogrammed instrument approaches to the point where the pilot either takes control and lands or has the autopilot execute a missed approach.

The autopilot is a powerful computer that takes input from either the pilot or a navigation device and essentially does what it is told to do. GPS navigators, for example, can have a full flight plan entered from departure to destination, and the autopilot will follow the navigator’s guidance.

These are the majority of the controls on the autopilot installed in my airplane:

HDG Knob = Heading knob (Used to set the desired heading)

AP = Autopilot (Pressing this turns the autopilot on)

FD = Flight Director (A form of navigational display that the pilot uses)

HDG = Heading (Tells the autopilot to fly the heading set by the Heading Knob)

NAV = Tells the autopilot to follow the input from the selected navigator

APR = Tells the autopilot to fly the chosen approach

ALT = Tells the autopilot to manage the altitude, controlled by the following:

VS = Vertical Speed (Tells the autopilot to climb or descend at the chosen rate)

Nose UP / Nose DN = Sets the climb/descent rate in feet per minute

FLC = Flight Level Change (An easy manual way to set the autopilot)

ALT Knob = Used to enter the desired altitude

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.


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