WHY SIRI AND ALEXA WEREN’T BUILT TO SMACK DOWN HARASSMENT

WIRED | 6/6/2019 | Noam Cohen
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The first chatbot, Eliza, was created in the 1960s by an MIT professor, Joseph Weizenbaum. It (she?) was a media sensation and a revelation for Weizenbaum. He saw the eagerness that people had to interact one-on-one with machines, and he quickly learned how trusting they would be with their personal information.

One day, Weizenbaum discovered his secretary chatting with a version of Eliza, called Doctor, which pretended to offer an elemental type of psychotherapy—basically mirroring whatever a “patient” said. It was built with simple code and had no larger purpose than serving as a first foray to explore how a computer and person could communicate. The secretary, Weizenbaum recalled, spotted his eavesdropping and asked him to leave the room.

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“I was startled to see how quickly and how very deeply people conversing with Doctor became emotionally involved with the computer and how unequivocally they anthropo­morphized it,” Weizenbaum wrote about that experience in 1976’s Computer Power and Human Reason. He then recounts a research idea he had: What if he rigged the MIT computer to save each day’s Eliza conversations so he could review them later. “I was promptly bombarded with accusations that what I proposed amounted to spying on people’s intimate thoughts,” he recalled. He backed off. Weizenbaum decided he needed explicit consent to save people’s conversations, and when denied that consent, he agreed not to collect them!

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Eliza changed Weizenbaum. He was shaken to discover that people would converse with a computer “as if it were a person who could be appropriately and usefully addressed in intimate terms.” The quest to imitate people with machines, which was given a big boost by Eliza, later fueled Weizenbaum’s conviction that the true danger from artificial intelligence would be how it disrespected human...
(Excerpt) Read more at: WIRED
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