I will never forget my first encounter with Eliza. "My father just doesn't appreciate me," I keyed into a clunky, noisy teletype back in 1969. Eliza, a computer program that simulated a conversation with a Rogerian psychotherapist, responded, just as noisily, "Tell me more about your parents." I responded, "Well, they just don't GET it--you know, who I really am and what I'm capable of." Eliza typed back, "Not being understood must be very hard for you."
It was a dream come true, really, and it foretold that something big was right around the corner. The dream was that of the brilliant English mathematician Alan Turing, a developer of the modern concept of computing. In 1950, in an essay called "Computing Machinery and Intelligence," Turing suggested that by the year 2000, computers would be powerful enough to "converse" with people--and even to fool most "average interrogator[s]" into thinking they were actually human, at least for five minutes or so.
This article was originally published with the title My Date with a Robot.