ELIZA – The Intelligent Answering Machine

Dear Michael,
sometimes I wonder if we don”t trust too much in the electronic communication, when one person writes some words to another person thousands of km away, and these words are converted into a sequence of bits and rush through computer chips and are converted into electric pulses or light waves, send back and forth to satellites until they finally reach the recipient. And the recipient for some reason does not question that the words he reads in the message are nothing else but the written thoughts that his friend has hammered into the keyboard thousands of km away.
Shouldn”t we be more cautious about the messages we receive day by day ? I don”t mean the mail I receive from you, I”m always sure that they come from you, cause they have their very unique style and always contain some code-words that mark them as authentic. But my younger brother, who is studying IT technology in the 2nd course now has shown me something they are doing currently. They got the project to develop a computer program that is able to write “fake answers” to an e-mail. I don”t know how they are doing it, but the program searches for some keywords in an incomming message, and than replies with some sort of standard sentences (that are usually not very complex or intelligent) which again contain the same keywords.
So my dear brother asked me to test his program. Therefore I send him an e-mail and within some micro-seconds already got an answer:

My Dear A.,
I send you my best wishes to persian New-Year. Did you received my present that I send you by post ? When I packed the parcel I cut my fingers with the scissors and had to put bandage on and now I can only use my left hand. I went with Shava to the mountains on Saturday, because with an injured finger the only proper thing to do is to go out for a walk in nature. We would have liked to stay there till Sunday, but I have no time because I have to prepare for the lecture at college. The students of the new curse will arrive tomorrow, and they want to be entertained properly. I hope you doing well and work hard to become the next Bill Gates or J.v.Neumann.
In love, your sister ghazal

Now have a look at the answer I received instantly from his program:

“Dear Sister ghazal,
O, I did not knew there was persian New-Year. What present you send, I did not received anything. O, you cut your fingers ? Interesting, why you need the scissors for this ! Did Shava liked the mountains ? What else did you do on Saturday ? So the students will come. I hope they will have fun.

Take Care
/your brother A.”

And now, what do you think ? Do you find that the program is doing a good job ? I know my brother was never very keen sending long letters to anybody, but at least he put his own (crazy) ideas into it. But the program that he wrote virtually only repeats what I wrote in my original message. I think it is better to carry on writing down our own thoughts, even though the answers may take a bid longer.

Hope everything is fine with you, Good Night.


Ghazal my Dear,
So funny to read your experiences with your brother. Thanks god, it is just a technical project that sends you such standard and formal letters in response to a mail. The quality of a machine-based artificial intelligence was actully tested by one of the earliest and most influential computer scientist (Alan Turing) by setting up a similar device that you and your borther were using. Turing suggested, that an experimentalist should do two verbal dialogues in parallel behind two black curtains. Behind one of the curtains a human person should sit to conduct a dialogue with him, wherease behind the other curtain the artificial-intelligence machine had to be placed. If the experimentalist could not tell after a certain time where the talking machine was and where the person was, than according to A.Turing the machine has passed the criteria of having indeed artificial intelligence.
But I could imagine, that this also depends a lot on the experimentalist. Simple-minded people might get fooled very easily, they might even think that a mail-response from your brothers program comes from a real person. Other people who read and wright a lot are probably much more critical. I could imagine that you are extremely critical. I think it will not be possible for any machine to fool you. You have somethink like a seventh sense to tell what is real and what is fake.

There were several attempts among IT freaks to beat Alan Turings test. They were called Chatter-Bots and among them ELIZA was probably the most famous. ELIZA was such an artifical language dialoge program developed at MIT. The exciting thing was that it should play the role of a psychoanalyst, talking to a patient. When Weizenbaum developed ELIZA, it was the time of Flower-Power, Hippie-Music and mind-extending drugs for the young, but the elder generation discovered the healing power of psycho-therapy. I guess this was the motivation for Weizenbaum designing ELIZA as a psychatrists chatter-bot. But even though ELIZA impressed some people really a lot (they were told that the doctor has a bad flue and therefore talks to them from behind a courtain), dedicated linguists that used the Turing Test could tell that it was only a machine.

I hope you can sleep well and don”t carry on endless dialogues with a machine in your dreams.

Take Care, Ghazal,


Hi Michael,
a last remark before midnight: Do you know why the computer program by Weizenbaum, that could participate in seemingly meaningful dialogues, was called ELIZA ? There was the character of Eliza Dolittle, a simple, uneducated person with a very basic language in G.B.Shaws play “Pigmalion” (later in the funny musical “May Fair Lady”). Two university professors, one of them was Mr. Higgins, made a bet: Higgins promised that he will “re-educate” Eliza Dolitte with brute force, give her not just elegant clothes but also a new language. And he will guide Eliza Dolittle to a reception of the high society and nobody should recognised that before she was selling flowers on the market every day. Guess what happend ?

Take care


Hi Ghazal my Dear,

What is wrong with a girl that sells flowers all day long ?
(See, now you caught me responding to you in the answering-machine-style ;-) .
I promise I wont do it again. But don”t expect me to read G.B.Shaws “Pygmalion” now to answer your question. It is already after midnight, and I have to go for a walk with our dog.

I”ll tell you tomorrow about what I think about Eliza Dolittles qualities as a chatter-bot.

Take Care, Good Night

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