Conversation: Eliza

The computer program known as “Eliza” was written in the mid 1960’s (64-66). The ‘doctor’ script of the Eliza program emulated a therapist, rephrasing statements into questions, creating an illusion of conversation. While the effect was striking at first, a computer that seemed to understand humans, its failing would eventually expose themselves, an process of user experience that would become known as ‘the Eliza effect’. In Noah Wardrip-Fruin’s Expressive Processing (Chapter 2: The Eliza Effect) he argues for a design strategy that doesn’t try to hide its internal processes, but instead makes the reverse engineering of the system into a critical part of ‘game play’. Rather then trying to hide its structure, such a notion puts the internal processes of a system into explicit creative negotiation with its users. I think this idea could work well, particularly for ‘educational’ systems, exploring particular content, while understanding its procedural context. But this leads to a wide conversation surrounding the ‘black box’ type relationship most users have with media.

some versions of Eliza online

* Readings:
o Weizenbaum, Joseph. “ELIZA: A computer program for the study of natural language communication between man and machine.” Communications of the ACM, Volume 9 , Issue 1 (January 1966) [If this URL is difficult to access log onto the library website, either on campus or via the link, then search for “ACM Digital Library” and, once in the library, search for “Weizenbaum.”]
o Suchman, Lucy. Plans and Situated Actions: The Problem of Human-Machine Communication. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987, pages 64-67. [Course Reader]
o Winograd, Terry. “Abstract: The ethics of machines which mimic people,” ACM Annual Conference/Annual Meeting, Proceedings of the 1984 annual conference of the ACM on The fifth generation challenge [If you are having problems accessing this, please follow the same instructions listed above for access to the Weizenbaum article.]
o Wardrip-Fruin, Noah. Expressive Processing: Digital Fictions, Computer Games, and Software Studies. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2009. (Chapter 2: The Eliza Effect).
o Dumit, Joseph. “Artificial Participation: An Interview with Warren Sack,” Zeroing in on the Year 2000: The Final Edition (Late Editions, 8) George E. Marcus, Editor (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000)


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