There’s a new ELIZA in town, and she’s more proactive than the original. In the 1960s, Joseph Weizenbaum of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory wrote a program that reacted to typed input as a Rogerian therapist would. The big test in artificial intelligence at the time was, “Can you design a program with enough artificial intelligence that, when people interacted with it, they wouldn’t know if they were communicating with another person or a computer?”
Eliza was a huge success in a sense that some people, even after Weizenbaum told them it was a computer, were still convinced they were “conversing” with a real person. An example of a typical interaction would be the person would type, “I’m sad today.” Eliza would respond, “Why are you sad today?” If the person typed, “I’m really upset with my sister.” Eliza might respond, “Do you often get upset with people in your family?” People were convinced.
Jump ahead 50 years; meet the brand new Eliza. This program doesn’t interact with you. Instead, you record a voice memo in the application. You can talk about something that’s bugging you or just describe your day. The recording is captured by Twilio, a programmable voice, text, and image system. It is then converted to text and sent to the IBM Watson AI system for “sentiment analysis.” Your report comes back in the form of a color-coded ring report to a smartphone, with various colors representing the relative amounts of stress and various feelings the AI engine attributes to the content of your recording.
This new Eliza was developed by two college students, Kathryn Hodge, a junior at Vassar College, and Tae Hong Min, a senior at Lehigh University. Eliza was built specifically for Tech Crunch’s Disrupt NY 2016. The Eliza tagline is, “Track Your Mental Health On The Go.” The authors say, “With ELIZA, you can find out more about your emotional health and see if you at risk for a mental disorder.” They also say you can use it to tell when you should see a therapist.
Just as the original Eliza was mistaken by some people as being real, the current Eliza is just a program. It needs to be clear that Eliza is still a work in progress and is not medically qualified for anything and no one should take its recommendations or even its reports as having medical substance. The best thing about Eliza, at this stage anyway, is that it’s an impressive demonstration of the growing power of artificial intelligence and machine learning tools. The new Eliza can already teach the old Eliza some impressive tricks.