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ELIZA is a computer program and an early example of primitive natural language processing. ELIZA operated by processing users' responses to scripts, the most famous of which was DOCTOR, a simulation of a Rogerian psychotherapist. Using almost no information about human thought or emotion, DOCTOR sometimes provided a startlingly human-like interaction. ELIZA was written at MIT by Joseph Weizenbaum between 1964 to 1966.

When the "patient" exceeded the very small knowledge base, DOCTOR might provide a generic response, for example, responding to "My head hurts" with "Why do you say your head hurts?" The response to "My mother hates me" would be "Who else in your family hates you?" ELIZA was implemented using simple pattern matching techniques, but was taken seriously by several of its users, even after Weizenbaum explained to them how it worked. It was one of the first chatterbots in existence.



Weizenbaum said that ELIZA, running the DOCTOR script, provided a "parody" of "the responses of a nondirectional psychotherapist in an initial psychiatric interview."[1] He chose the context of psychotherapy to "sidestep the problem of giving the program a data base of real-world knowledge",[2] the therapeutic situation being one of the few real human situations in which a human being can reply to a statement with a question that indicates very little specific knowledge of the topic under discussion. For example, it is a context in which the question "Who is your favorite composer?" can be answered acceptably with responses such as "What about your own favorite composer?" or "Does that question interest you?"

ELIZA was named after Eliza Doolittle, a working-class character in George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion, who is taught to speak with an upper-class accent.[3]

First implemented in Weizenbaum's own SLIP list-processing language, ELIZA worked by simple parsing and substitution of key words into canned phrases. Depending upon the initial entries by the user the illusion of a human writer could be instantly dispelled, or could continue through several interchanges. It was sometimes so convincing that there are many anecdotes about people becoming very emotionally caught up in dealing with DOCTOR for several minutes until the machine's true lack of understanding became apparent.[citation needed]

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