Geert Lovink on Sat, 8 Mar 2008 23:24:47 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> computer critic Joseph Weizenbaum died, age 85

(In the fall of 2007 an old friend of mine, the Amsterdam-based 
journalist-artist Ine Poppe decided to hop on the train and go to 
Berlin to visit Joseph Weizenbaum. She did an interview with him and 
came back with lots of interesting stories. It was around the same time 
that I read the interview book , made by Gunna Wendt, in German. I 
wrote about it in a nettime posting called the Society of the Query. 
Ine gave me a document, in German called Was ich am Ende meines Lebens 
glaube, 1 DIN A4 with 14 theses on it. It's hanging above my desk, in 
front of me. "5) Not all aspect of life are computable." The same can 
be said about Weizenbaum's life. /geert)

Joseph Weizenbaum (Berlin, January 8, 1923 – March 5, 2008) was an 
American professor emeritus of computer science at MIT.

Born in Berlin, Germany to Jewish parents, he escaped Nazi Germany in 
1936, 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 
1950 he worked on analog computers, and helped create a digital 
computer for Wayne State University. In 1955 he worked for General 
Electric on the first computer used for banking, and in 1963 took a 
position at MIT.

In 1966, he published a comparatively simple program called ELIZA which 
demonstrated natural language processing by engaging humans into a 
conversation resembling that with an empathic psychologist. The program 
applied pattern matching rules to the human's statements to figure out 
its replies. (Programs like this are now called chatterbots.) 
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. 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. This he saw as a consequence of their 
not having been raised in the emotional environment of a human family.
Weizenbaum was the creator of the SLIP programming language.

A few years ago, Weizenbaum moved to Berlin and lived in the vicinity 
of where he used to live with his parents.[1][2]
Until his death he was Chairman of the Scientific Council at the 
Institute of Electronic Business in Berlin.

See also:

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