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Joseph Weizenbaum

computer scientist and professor at MIT

Joseph Weizenbaum was a computer scientist and a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the 1950s, Weizenbaum worked on analogue computers and assisted to create a digital computer. In 1956, he worked for General Electric on the „Electronic Recording Machine, Accounting“ (ERMA), a computer system that initiated magnetically encoded fonts, permitting computerized check processing via Magnetic Ink Character Recognition (MICR).

Background

In 1966, Weizenbaum published a program called ELIZA, which performed natural language processing. It could engage humans in a dialogue, which bore closeness to one with an empathic psychotherapist. Weizenbaum was surprised that many handlers, who would open their hearts to it, took the program seriously. He started to reflect theoretically about the consequences of artificial intelligence and became one of its foremost opponents.

His prominent book “Computer Power and Human Reason” (1976) shows his doubt towards computer technology: while artificial intelligence may be achievable, mankind should not allow computers to make important judgements because they will permanently lack the qualities of wisdom and compassion. - The Weizenbaum Award is named after him.