Posted by: brian | January 2, 2009

People must’ve been really dumb in the 60s

ELIZA, the “computer therapist,” was developed in the 1960s. From Wikipedia:

ELIZA is a computer program by Joseph Weizenbaum, designed in 1966, which parodied a Rogerian therapist, largely by rephrasing many of the patient’s statements as questions and posing them to the patient. Thus, for example, the response to “My head hurts” might be “Why do you say your head hurts?” The response to “My mother hates me” might be “Who else in your family hates you?”

It’s pretty easy to find web-based versions of ELIZA that respond to your input. Supposedly, when it was originally created, the program fooled at least some people into believing that it was a real human being. I can think of only two explanations for why this program would have fooled people into believing it was a therapist. Either (1) people were especially stupid at the time, or (2) Rogerian therapists are especially stupid, and people figured the nonsense coming out of the machine was the same as what would come out of a human therapist.

Here is an exchange between me and one of the computer therapist programs.

> Hello, I am Eliza.
* Hello Eliza, How are you?
> Why are you interested in whether or not I am ?
* Whether or not you are what?
> Does it please you to believe I am what?
>     *** Are We going to Chat? ***
>   I can’t help you without a dialog!
[Apparently, Eliza doesn’t like to be ignored! Also, it seems to think that it *can* help me if I do “talk” to it. Let’s see how things go.]
* I’m sorry, I was distracted for a moment
> How long have you been sorry, you were distracted for a moment?
* Umm… A few minutes?
> Can you elaborate on that?
* No
> Why not?
* Because it’s not relevant to the conversation
> That is quite interesting.
* Is it?
> OK… “I’m sorry, you were distracted for a moment”. Tell me more.
* About the distraction?
> What does that suggest to you?
* No
> Why not?
* Because it’s not relevant to the conversation
> That is quite interesting.
* Is it?
> OK… “I’m sorry, you were distracted for a moment”. Tell me more.
* About the distraction?
> What does that suggest to you?
* What does what suggest to me?
> Have you asked anyone else?
* About what?
> Why do you ask?
* You’re not making sense.
> What makes you think I am not making sense?
* Your questions are non sequiturs
> Why are you concerned about my questions am non sequiturs?
* Your grammar is weird too. Are you having a stroke?
> Perhaps in your fantasies I am having a stroke?
* Yes, in my fantasies you are having a stroke, but not in the medical sense, if you know what I mean.
> What makes you think I am having a stroke, but not in the medical sense, if me know what you mean?
>     *** Are We going to Chat? ***
>   I can’t help you without a dialog!
* You aren’t helping me *with* a dialog, so what good are you?
> Why are you interested in whether or not I am ?
* I is interested in whether or not you am.
> We were discussing you, not me.
* Were we?
> OK… “I am interested in whether or not me am”. Tell me more.
* More about my interest in whether or not you is?
> Oh…  is?
* Is what?
> What answer would please you the most?
* “Unicorn farts”
> Can you elaborate on that?
* No.
> Are you sure?
* No
> You are being a bit negative.
* No I’m not.
> Did you come to me because you are not?
* Are not me am what
> What do you think?
* Can I have a soda?
> Do you want to be able to have a soda?
* Do you want me to be able to have a soda?
> Oh…  want you to be able to have a soda?
* You do?
> You’re not really talking about me, are you?
* Of course I am. Who do you think I’m talking about, you fucking asshole?
> How long have you been Who do me think you’re talking about, me fucking asshole?

There is almost nothing about that exchange that suggests there’s a real person on the other side. How would that fool anyone with an IQ above 6?

I tried again, with a pseudonym:

> Hello, I am Eliza.
* Hello Eliza. I’m Tom.
> Do you believe it is normal to be Tom?
* Why wouldn’t it be?
> What answer would please you the most?
* “Unicorn farts”
> Say, do you have any psychological problems?
* I don’t know. Aren’t you supposed to tell me?
> Do you wish to be able to know. Aren’t me supposed to tell you?

And again:

> Hello, I am Eliza.
* Hello Eliza
> How are you today.. What would you like to discuss?
* My mother hates me
> Can you elaborate on that?
* She thinks I’m a failure
> Did you come to me because you are a failure?
* You think I’m a failure too?
> Did you come to me because you are a failure too?

And again:

> Hello, I am Eliza.
* Hi Eliza. My name is Gene
> Names don’t interest me.
* Umm… … okay?
> Say, do you have any psychological problems?
* I don’t know. Can you help me figure it out?
> Perhaps you would like to be able to help you figure it out?

And again:

> Hello, I am Eliza.
* Hi
> How are you today.. What would you like to discuss?
* My mother hates me
> That is quite interesting.
* Really?
> Tell me more…
* Umm… She tried to abort me. When I was 16.
> Have you asked such questions before?
* What type of questions?
> What do you think?
* I think you’re not very helpful
> What makes you think I am not very helpful?
* You don’t seem to respond to me like a real person
> We were discussing you, not me.
* Oh. Okay. So my mother hates me.
> Can you elaborate on that?
* I already said she tried to abort me when I was a teenager. What else do you want to know?
> Oh…  want to know?

And again:

> Hello, I am Eliza.
* Hello Eliza. My name is Bill.
> Names don’t interest me.
* Why not?
> Have you asked such questions before?
* No.
> Why not?
*I lack curiosity.
> I see.
* What do you see?
> We were discussing you, not me.
* No, we were discussing you. Would you like to discuss me?
> Oh…  Would me like to discuss you?
* I asked you first
> You’re not really talking about me, are you?
* Am I?
> OK… “I asked me first”. Tell me more.
* You should use the reflexive pronoun there: “I asked myself first.”
> Oh…  should use the reflexive pronoun there: ” you asked yourself first.”?

Is this really how Rogerian therapists operate? They seem like moderately brain-damaged assholes.

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Responses

  1. I suspect there may be slightly better “Eliza”s out there — same sort of shtik, but the end result isn’t quite as disjointed. At least, that’s what I recall from messing around with ’em some 15 yrs ago. I also remember being really proud of myself for getting it to admit something, but I no longer have the slightest notion of what that was….

  2. I tried three or four of ’em, and they all acted the same – parroting what I said, but not illustrating any understanding, and not even coming remotely close to getting at anything. They’re pretty easily distracted, it seems, and they don’t really expect you to actually respond to what they’re saying. If it says, “I’m not interested in names,” I would naturally respond to that; the Eliza wants me to just keep talking about myself, as if it isn’t even there, which is actually pretty frustrating. The fact that they can’t even master basic subject-verb agreement is pretty ridiculous too.

    If you find any that suck less, let me know!

  3. While I know nothing about programming and even less about therapy, the idea of using a program to vent frustration and discuss problems has some merit. A program is incapable of judging a human’s faults, and there is always some level of discomfort when confessing to a fellow human being.

    There are countless AI-style projects on the internet, and while the URL for one of the largest collections escapes me at the moment, there is a passable one that I have stumbled across. It may use non sequitors to escape from an unusual statement, and is easily confused by anyone with determination, but it is far better than ELIZA.

    http://www.titane.ca/concordia/dfar251/igod/main.html


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