Joseph Weizenbaum

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Joseph Weizenbaum is a professor of computer science at MIT. He was born 8 January 1923 in Berlin. He emigrated to the USA in 1936 when the Nazis were in power in Germany. He started studying mathematics in 1941 in the US, but his studies were interrupted by the war, under which he served for the military. In 1966, he presented a comparatively simple program called ELIZA which demonstrated natural language processing by engaging humans into a conversation resembling that with an empathic psychologist. The program applied pattern matching rules to the human's statements to figure out its replies. Programs like this are called chatterbots. Weizenbaum was shocked that his program was taken seriously by many users, who would open their hearts to it. He started to think philosophically about the implications of Artificial Intelligence and later became one of its leading critics. His influential 1976 book "Computer power and human reason" displays his ambivalence towards computer technology and lays out his case: while Artificial Intelligence may be possible, we should never allow computers to make important decisions because computers will always lack human qualities such as compassion and wisdom. This he sees as a consequence of their not having been raised in the emotional environment of a human family.


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