I found out about the computer program ‘Eliza’ from watching the documentary Hypernormalization.
(See blog post: https://rebeccadavies16.wordpress.com/2016/11/02/hypernormalisation/)
Eliza was developed by Joseph Wizenbaum between 1964 and 1966, it is an example of artificial intelligence, it is a computer simulation parodying the ‘repetition’ methods of psychotherapist Carl Rogers. Eliza offers an online psychotherapy session, and answers your problems by basically mimicking what you say in the form of a question.
What Wizenbaum found with Eliza, was that despite her users knowing that this was a computer program and was completely unaware of what was going on – they still became engrossed by it and really opened up.
One user commented “After all, the computer doesn’t burn out, look down on you, or try to have sex with you“.
In the documentary, it is noted that what Eliza demonstrates is that in an age of individualism, a reflection of the self through simulation is what was most comforting. This can also be seen in the later development of the idea of ‘intelligent agents’ that monitored the internet behaviour of users and from it could generate what they would want to see in the future. Generating a ‘safe bubble’ that could protect you from any irrelevant or opposing information , directing you down a self indulgent path of interest.
In the documentary this idea is summarised:
“In an age of anxious individualism, frightened of the future, that was reassuring – just like Eliza. A safe bubble that could protect you from the complexities of the world outside.”