Siri’s Predecessor, and “Good Friend”

I think it’s safe to say that most iPhone 4S users have toyed around with Siri’s capabilities and limits. We’re all telling her that we love her, asking her absurdly subjective questions, and the developers anticipated all of it. While I was making a fool of myself with Siri last night (did you know that she can’t –or just chooses not to– hear certain four letter swear words?) I found myself uttering a mysterious question that rose up from some murky place in my id: “Do you know Eliza?”

What? Where did that come from? I then remembered the world’s first artificial intelligence psychologist: Eliza.  She was developed in the 1960s and then when the personal computer started to take off in the 1980s she emerged yet again.  My dad has always been a computer enthusiast and my mother has always been a psychologist.  Therein lies the perfect storm that resulted in me, at about 10 years old, taunting a fake therapist name Eliza in my mom’s office. The conversations with Eliza are circular and take you nowhere at all.  I doubt that anybody expected Eliza to be an effective therapeutic tool (pun intended).  But, I do remember being surprised that the computer could carry on something vaguely conversational. Here’s a sample:

As you can see there’s really not a lot going on there.  She was created in the Carl Rogers tradition, meaning that she’s non-judgemental, reflective (as you can see above), and generally positive in tone. Some people claimed to have somewhat personal, human encounters with Eliza in those early days. I can’t say the same for myself, but I’m definitely having more of that now with Siri. No, I don’t think Siri is human, but the interactions do feel more personal and I’m keenly aware of the developers’ presence. Some staffer knew that Eliza would come up and they were prepared with an answer, pictured at the top.

The text is amusing, but hearing it in Siri’s robo-voice made it even funnier.  Although, I question its accuracy: I’m not sure that Eliza has retired.  A few minutes after I took the screenshot from Eliza above, she suddenly prompted me for more conversation.  Does Siri offer help without prompting?