January 22, 2021
This week in The History of AI at AIWS.net – Joseph Weizenbaum was born on January 8th, 1923. Weizenbaum published the program ELIZA in 1966 which could mimic conversation with humans. Although Weizenbaum was considered a father of Artificial Intelligence, he criticised the field later in his life.
Joseph Weizenbaum was a German-American computer scientist. He was born in 1923 to Jewish parents in Germany and fled to the US in 1936. He studied at Wayne State University, which was interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War, but he completed his B.S. there in 1946 and M.S. in 1950. He started working at MIT in 1964. There he developed ELIZA. In the 70s and 80s he casted some doubts on AI and computer, with his book Computer Power and Human Reason (1976) and an interview with MIT’s The Tech. In 2008, the International Society for Ethics and Information Technology established the Weizenbaum Award, named after him, for individuals that made significant contributions to information and computer ethics. Weizenbaum passed away in Germany in 2008.
ELIZA was a computer program developed at the MIT AI Lab between 1964 and 1966. It was named after the character Eliza Doolittle from the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. The program runs a DOCTOR script, and acts in the manner of a psychotherapist. ELIZA could simulate a conversation but wasn’t able to contextualised them. Weizenbaum’s purpose of developing the program was to demonstrate the superficiality of communication between humans and machines. ELIZA is one of the first examples of a chatbot.
Joseph Weizenbaum was a pivotal figure in the development of AI with his contribution of ELZIA. Thus, the HAI Initiative considers his birth to be a notable event in the history of AI.