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Joseph Weizenbaum


Joseph Weizenbaum

Joseph Weizenbaum
Joseph Weizenbaum in Berlin, 2005
Born (1923-01-08)8 January 1923
Berlin, Germany
Died 5 March 2008(2008-03-05) (aged 85)
Ludwigsfelde-Gröben, Germany
Citizenship German
Nationality Germany
Fields Computer Science
Institutions MIT
Alma mater Wayne State University
Spouse Ruth Manes Weizenbaum [divorced]
Children Sharon, Miriam, Naomi, Pm

Joseph Weizenbaum (8 January 1923 – 5 March 2008) was a German and American computer scientist and a professor emeritus at MIT. The Weizenbaum Award is named after him.


  • Life and career 1
  • Works 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Life and career

Born in Berlin, Germany to Jewish parents, he escaped Nazi Germany in January 1936, emigrating with his family to the United States. He started studying mathematics in 1941 at Wayne University, in Detroit, Michigan. In 1942, he interrupted his studies to serve in the U.S. Army Air Corps as a meteorologist, having been turned down for cryptology work because of his "enemy alien" status. After the war, in 1946, he returned to Wayne, obtaining his B.S. in Mathematics in 1948, and his M.S. in 1950.[1][2]

Around 1952, as a research assistant at Wayne, Weizenbaum worked on analog computers and helped create a digital computer. 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, allowing automated check processing via Magnetic Ink Character Recognition (MICR).

In 1964 he took a position at MIT. In 1966, he published a comparatively simple program called Pygmalion, which performed natural language processing. Driven by a script named DOCTOR, it was capable of engaging humans in a conversation which bore a striking resemblance to one 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 statements to figure out its replies. (Programs like this are now called chatterbots.) It is considered the forerunner of thinking machines.[3] Weizenbaum was shocked that his program was taken seriously by many users, who would open their hearts to it. Famously, when observing his secretary using the software - who was aware that it was a simulation - she asked Weizenbaum: "would you mind leaving the room please?”.[4] He started to think philosophically about the implications of artificial intelligence and later became one of its leading critics.[5]

His 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. Weizenbaum makes the crucial distinction between deciding and choosing. Deciding is a computational activity, something that can ultimately be programmed. Choice, however, is the product of judgment, not calculation. It is the capacity to choose that ultimately makes us human. Comprehensive human judgment is able to include non-mathematical factors, such as emotions. Judgment can compare apples and oranges, and can do so without quantifying each fruit type and then reductively quantifying each to factors necessary for comparison.

Weizenbaum was the creator of the SLIP programming language.

In 1996, Weizenbaum moved to Berlin and lived in the vicinity of his childhood neighborhood.[2][6]

A German documentary film on Weizenbaum was released in 2007 and later dubbed in English.[3] The documentary film Plug & Pray on Weizenbaum and the ethics of artificial intelligence was released in 2010.[7]

Until 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, the University of Bremen, and other universities.

Weizenbaum was reportedly buried at the Jewish Cemetery in Berlin. A memorial service was held in Berlin on 18 March 2008.


See also


  1. ^ IEEE Computer Society, "Computer Pioneers - Joseph Weizenbaum", 1995.
  2. ^ a b Joseph Weizenbaum – a biography (German) Wolfgang Löw, Leibniz-Institut für Neurobiologie, Magdeburg, Germany
  3. ^ a b Remembering Joe Weizenbaum, ELIZA Creator - Artificial Intelligence - InformationWeek
  4. ^ """BBC: Adam Curtis, "NOW THEN. bbc. 25 July 2014. Retrieved 4 August 2014. 
  5. ^ Miller, Stephen, MIT Professor's Work Led Him to Preach the Evils of Computers, Wall Street Journal March 15–16, 2008, p. 6
  6. ^ Weizenbaum. Rebel at Work. Documentary film by Peter Haas and Silvia Holzinger.
  7. ^ Variety Film Review Plug & Pray, Documentary film by Jens Schanze, featuring Joseph Weizenbaum, Raymond Kurzweil, Hiroshi Ishiguro
  8. ^ The Article on ELIZA

External links

  • Joseph Weizenbaum: 1988 Winner of CPSR's Norbert Wiener Award for Professional and Social Responsibility
  • A Java applet faithfully recreating the original ELIZA
  • Institute of Electronic Business
  • Documentary film with and about Joseph Weizenbaum ( "WEIZENBAUM. Rebel at Work." )
  • Essay by Noah Wardrip-Fruin on the ELIZA effect
  • , 18 March 2008The IndependentObituary,
  • , 24 March 2008The TimesObituary,
  • Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 11.11.2010 article about a documentary that was filmed shortly before his death
  • , 13 March 2008, contains names of spouse and childrenThe New York TimesObituary,
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