The computational therapeutic: exploring Weizenbaum's ELIZA as a history of the present

Bassett, Caroline (2019) The computational therapeutic: exploring Weizenbaum's ELIZA as a history of the present. AI and Society, 34 (4). pp. 803-812. ISSN 0951-5666

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This paper explores the history of ELIZA, a computer programme approximating a Rogerian therapist, developed by Jospeh Weizenbaum at MIT in the 1970s, as an early AI experiment. ELIZA’s reception provoked Weizenbaum to re-appraise the relationship between ‘computer power and human reason’ and to attack the ‘powerful delusional thinking’ about computers and their intelligence that he understood to be widespread in the general public and also amongst experts. The root issue for Weizenbaum was whether human thought could be ‘entirely computable’ (reducible to logical formalism). This also provoked him to re-consider the nature of machine intelligence and to question the instantiation of its logics in the social world, which would come to operate, he said, as a ‘slow acting poison’. Exploring Weizenbaum’s 20th Century apostasy, in the light of ELIZA, illustrates ways in which contemporary anxieties and debates over machine smartness connect to earlier formations. In particular, this article argues that it is in its designation as a computational therapist that ELIZA is most significant today. ELIZA points towards a form of human–machine relationship now pervasive, a precursor of the ‘machinic therapeutic’ condition we find ourselves in, and thus speaks very directly to questions concerning modulation, autonomy, and the new behaviorism that are currently arising.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Film and Music > Media and Film
Research Centres and Groups: Sussex Humanities Lab
Depositing User: Caroline Bassett
Date Deposited: 31 Jan 2018 12:36
Last Modified: 13 Aug 2020 11:00

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