Do you care which one? Sometimes, a pizza is just a pizza, isn’t it? A taxi is just a taxi, as long as it turns up and gets you there? A paper is just a newspaper, right? With our busy lives, frequently we just want to get things done and not think too much about it.
In 1950, Alan Turing pondered not whether can machines think, but whether machines could ever do what humans (who are thinking entities) do? As I wrote here previously, machines can now think much better than us in some situations, and in ways we do not comprehend. But a more significant question is: do we care when machines do our thinking for us?
Joseph Weizenbaum escaped Nazi Germany as a child and, in due course, became an academic at Boston’s MIT. In 1966, he wrote Eliza, a software programme inspired by George Bernard Shaw’s Eliza Dolittle. Eliza showed that, for the first time ever, machines can apparently do what humans can do.
Eliza conversed with humans, in written text exchanges, using open-ended questions in a conversational style inspired by the psychologist Carl Roberts. Chatting with Eliza, a computer, feels like a session with your psychologist. For example, Eliza’s response to the human’s plaintive “I am unhappy” might be “Are you unhappy often?” To which if the human types “Yes”, Eliza might then ask “Can you elaborate on that?” And so on.