“The most fruitful and natural exercise for our minds is, in my opinion, conversation”*…
In this age of Alexa and Siri, it’s worth recalling the (long) history of human-machine conversation. At MIT in 1966 an experiment with an early form of artificial intelligence anticipated just how close we might grow with our machines…
Client: Men are all alike.
ELIZA (a computer): In what way
Client: They’re always bugging us about something or other.
ELIZA: Can you think of a specific example
Client: Well, my boyfriend made me come here.
ELIZA: Your boyfriend made you come here
Client: He says I’m depressed much of the time.
ELIZA: I am sorry to hear you are depressed
Client: It’s true. I am unhappy.
ELIZA: Do you think coming here will help you not to be unhappy
Client: I need some help, that much seems certain.
– Joseph Weizenbaum, from a transcription of “Computational Linguistics.”
Named after George Bernard Shaw’s ingénue in Pygmalion, the ELIZA program operated on the Project MAC computer system at MIT and made natural language exchange possible between man and machine. ELIZA identified key words and phrases and responded with rote answers that simulated a conversation.
* Michel de Montaigne,
As we lie back on the couch, we might note that it was on this date in 1928 that the Enigma Machine encoded its first message.
A simple German machine the size of a portable typewriter, ENIGMA allowed for security in communications by a process in which typed letters were replaced by a cipher text displayed on illuminated lamps. The cipher was symmetrical so entering the cipher text into another ENIGMA reproduced the original message. Security was provided by a set of rotor wheels and a series of patch cables whose arrangement was agreed upon previously.
ENIGMA was used extensively by the German military during World War II to transmit battle plans and other secret information. By December of 1941, however, British codebreakers managed to decipher the code, allowing them to routinely read most ENIGMA traffic.
[source- Computer History Museum]