January 8, 1923 – March 5, 2008) was a German-American author and
professor emeritus of computer science at MIT.
in Berlin, Germany to Jewish parents, he escaped Nazi Germany in
1935, emigrating with his family to the United States. He started
studying mathematics in 1941 in the US, but his studies were interrupted
by the war, during which he served in the military. Around 1952
he worked on analog computers, and helped create a digital computer
for Wayne State University. In 1956 he worked for General Electric
on ERMA, a computer system that introduced the use of the magnetically-encoded
fonts imprinted on the bottom border of checks. This allowed automated
check processing via Magnetic Ink Character Recognition, and in
1964 took a position at MIT.
1962 (or 1966 according to ELIZA), he published a comparatively
simple program called ELIZA, named after the ingenue in George Bernard
Shaw's Pygmalion, which demonstrated natural language processing
by engaging humans into a conversation resembling that with an empathic
psychologist. Weizenbaum modeled its conversational style after
Carl Rogers, who introduced the use of open-ended questions to encourage
patients to communicate more effectively with therapists. The program
applied pattern matching rules to the human's statements to figure
out its replies. (Programs like this are now called chatterbots.)
It is considered the forerunner of thinking machines.  Weizenbaum
was shocked that his program was taken seriously by many users,
who would open their hearts to it. He started to think philosophically
about the implications of Artificial Intelligence and later became
one of its leading critics.
influential 1976 book Computer Power and Human Reason displays his
ambivalence towards computer technology and lays out his case: while
Artificial Intelligence may be possible, we should never allow computers
to make important decisions because computers will always lack human
qualities such as compassion and wisdom. This he saw as a consequence
of their not having been raised in the emotional environment of
a human family.
was the creator of the SLIP programming language.
1996, Weizenbaum moved to Berlin and lived in the vicinity of his
documentary film on Weizenbaum was released in 2007 and later dubbed
his death he was Chairman of the Scientific Council at the Institute
of Electronic Business in Berlin. In addition to working at MIT,
Weizenbaum held academic appointments at Harvard, Stanford and the
University of Bremen, and other universities. Weizenbaum was reportedly
buried at the Jewish Cemetery in Berlin. A memorial serivce was
held in Berlin on March 18, 2008.
- A Computer Program for the Study of Natural Language Communication
between Man and Machine," Communications of the Association
for Computing Machinery 9 (1966): 36-45.
Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment To Calculation, San
Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1976 ISBN 0-7167-0464-1