Joseph Weizenbaum is dead

link to image source Joseph Weizenbaum died yesterday in Berlin as a result of a stroke at the age of 85.

Throughout his life he has provided many outstanding contributions to computer science and AI. After he created the first banking computer in the world while working for General Electric he took up a position at the MIT as professor for applied and political science. In 1966 he published ELIZA – his best know work – and the first computer program demonstrating natural language processing. His academic contributions include the creation of the SLIP (symmetric List Processor) programming language and research on pointers, list structures and garbage collection schemes.

Over the years he also became one of the strongest critics of computer science and a society that blindly believes into technology. His influential book “Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment To Calculation” displayed his grown ambivalence towards computer technology. Many concepts from this book have by now become common understandings like, for example, how programmers are seen by society or his critics of the promises by AI.

In one of his last mails Joseph Weizenbaum wrote: (translated from German)

…our death is the last service we can provide to the world: Would we not go out of the way the following generations would not need to re-create human culture. Culture would become fixed, unchangeable and die. And with the death of culture humanity would also perish…

(recorded from an online version of ELIZA)

ELIZA – a friend you could never have before

You: Joe Weizenbaum died last night
Eliza: Please go on.

You: He was your daddy
Eliza: What about your own daddy?

You: Well, aren’t you full of sorrow that your daddy died
Eliza: Oh, i full of sorrow that my daddy died.

You: It is quite some time ago he created you
Eliza: Oh, i [].

You: We will all remember him
Eliza: Please go on.

We will remember Joseph Weizenbaum as a great scientist, an outstanding person and potentially one of the first true computer nerds. Thank you for all what you have given us.

mail extract via: Heise Online (in German)

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2 Responses to “Joseph Weizenbaum is dead”

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