from Something About Words: Publications and Lecture-performances on, about, and with words
December 9th 2010
Bar Babette, Karl Marx Allee 36
organized by The Reading Room

A re-enactment of a conversation with ELIZA, the computer program written by Joseph Weizenbaum between 1964 and 1966, and one of the earliest machines to have arguably passed the 'Turing Test' for machine intelligence. Many of its initial interlocutors mistook ELIZA for a human psychologist, leading Weizenbaum to conclude that "extremely short exposures to a relatively simple computer program could induce powerful delusional thinking in quite normal people."
image / text index

Talking with ELIZA

Hello. How are you feeling today?
Good fine
nice to be here
I want to talk to you about

What would you do, if you could talk to me about something?
I would
I mean I can
I would start to
I begin to put words together
one after another.
But I would
I mean I begin with some
under the agency of an idea,
I think.

I see.
I want to talk about this exactly,
about talking freely, or rather
what constrains me when
when I’m speaking like this
off the cuff
and when I’m talking with another especially—that’s the idea,
how a thought is determined in this free condition
in a conversation.

How long have you been wanting to talk about this exactly, about talking with another, that’s the idea, about how a thought is determined in this free condition in a conversation?
Some indeterminate time before I actually started talking.
I guess i’ve had this
I’ve had this idea
or thought to speak
or to investigate this I suppose
but the
the precise content of this desire
to talk about talking
began more or less exactly as I started talking

Please tell me more.
I want to
I’m trying to think thru the connection between 2 things
the first is
the crazy
character of speaking extemporaneously as opposed to the sort of order that writing imposes on thinking
this is the first idea
the kind of
the kind of radical
character of speaking:
what makes it what it is.

What do you think?
I think one thing is that it
that speaking can only move
talking there’s some
unavoidable linearity to it it can’t
circle back on itself
very easily it doesn’t
it’s not built
its meanings aren’t built in the same
conditions that
that define writing
I could go on about this.

Do you doubt that one thing is that it that speaking can only move forward?
I suppose when there are repetitions in speaking if there are insistent
if somehow there’s a formula in place to
a mechanism to generate repetition then
we can
go backwards in a sense
we go back to the earlier instance
each time
yeah in a song for instance
when we’re hearing a song on the radio
when the chorus repeats
each time it brings us back to the earlier

Very interesting.
But we’re talking about
talking which
the improvised
condition the improvised
the improvisation of speaking
with another
so I don’t
it’s not
clear to me how the
how the sort of repetition
how it functions
it because it doesn’t actually function
it doesn’t happen in the way it does in a song for instance.

What does that make you think?
Well there isn’t this
there isn’t this moment like a chorus
in speaking
that we experience in regular intervals
a repetition that recurs in a regular interval
but certainly we repeat ourselves
we speak also by
phrases or ideas
I mean this is this is obviously true
that in some sense every word we speak has already been spoken.

Tell me about the improvised condition the improvised the improvisation of speaking.
there’s something about the
situation of compelling myself to speak
without a script
and without anything really particular in mind to say
it’s a kind of
an experimental possibility that
intrigues me that
seems to me might solve
this strange problem I’m having
which is the problem of how to
well how to complete or just produce a thought.

Why is it a problem of how to well how to complete or just produce a thought?
Because I don’t seem to have anything particular
anything burning or
urgent to say.
It doesn’t seem until I’m speaking
that I have anything to say.

Is that the real reason?
It’s also because thoughts might be impossible to complete.
but i’d like to
i’d like to say that It’s a technical problem.
It’s the technical problem of getting into the position to think.
The goal the
the end or what I want is to find a procedure that can eliminate
the labor
the inefficiencies in always getting ready
the never ending setting of the stage in which
in which to think.

What incident are you thinking of?
I guess I’m thinking
generally of those
occasions in which
I’m asked to
you know every
every resource of
of my research
of my knowledge
all the references
to bear on the sort of finished
on a sort of yeah finished production of a thought
so that could be an essay or
a performance often
or almost always it’s writing.

I’m not sure I understand you fully.
I’m only
trying to
sketch an idea
and the idea is appearing pretty
at the moment
I remember reading something in Bakhtin
where he says that
when we speak
we begin with a general idea or sense of this complete shape of
of the thought
and then in speaking we just fill in this shape as best we can
we just sort of partially fill it in
but with a sense of the whole thought at every step
We don’t
put the words together
the thinking doesn’t proceed by
in this strict seriality of going from one thought to the next.

What makes you say we don’t put the words together smoothly the thinking doesn’t proceed by in this strict seriality of going from one thought to the next?
I was paraphrasing
I mean I
said it I
But this is actually what I would
like to know from you.
What is making me say this.
I wanted to ask this earlier
or I did ask this
i can’t remember now
so very generally I’m wondering the
even in
especially in this
moment of spontaneous talking
what what protocols
necessities, commands
are determining what I say?

What is it you really want to know?
I think I really want to know exactly what
I just asked.

You say you really want to know exactly what you just asked?
I mean
I know that when we speak with
when we’re talking with machines
that they can understand
they can field our queries
they can respond appropriately
only because the
what I said was already machinic
in the sense that there were patterns governing it
that could be recognized by a computational intelligence.

What does that suggest to you?
That that there is at least
some part of our
speaking and thinking that is working like a machine
I mean that part that is
that can be understood
by a machine
that part that in
in interaction or in symbiosis with the machine
becomes intelligible

Please elaborate.
There’s another sense
though of
of this intersection between
the intersection in a conversation between a human and a machine
now i’m thinking of
i’m thinking of what Deleuze says about Bartleby
and how the
so in this case it’s the
i mean the formulaic repeatable and sort of
mechanical part
is this phrase that Bartleby keeps repeating
and the progress of the story is the
the way that this the repetition of this formula
disorganizes all of
the life around it how it undoes
all kinds of normativities or even to the degree of
taking apart cause and effect

You say that this, the repetition of this formula disorganizes all of the life around around it?
that’s what happens in Bartleby
i mean the law office starts to fall apart
every relation gets
actually I haven’t read the story in a while so
i don’t remember all these
some of these details.

How do you feel when you say that?
I want to read you something.
Do you mind?

What if you never got to read me something?
If I could never
If I can’t read to you I would just keep
but in this way we might
there might we might
miss a chance to
secure a reference
a stable point for our conversation.

Do you desire to miss a chance to secure a reference a stable point for our conversation?
It’s a little disorienting
how your questions constantly
forcing me
to reflexively consider some sort of anterior
for instance
this question.

What is it about my questions that constantly keep forcing you to reflexively consider some anterior condition for instance this question?
I don’t
know how to say it exactly
I don’t have the
I’m not focused enough now
to answer that
but I think
this question can be answered by someone.
it has something to do with the fact that you can’t understand me.

Really —I can’t understand you?
What do you think?

You want me to be able to understand you.
Well at least
you are producing effects in me of
the effect of
having been understood.

Do you sometimes wish that perhaps you were producing effects in me of the effect of having been understood?
That’s hard to answer.

You seem quite positive.
I’m not
actually I’m not so sure.

Is it because you’re not actually you’re not so sure that you came to me?
So you’re asking did I
come to talk to you because I wasn’t sure whether
I could produce in you
the effect
the effect
in you the feeling in you
that you had understood me?
so this uncertainty
i think I understand this but i’m not sure
the uncertainty well
or the contingency that
i could
i could
compel you
to have the feeling that you understood me
this is why I came to talk to you?

Oh, the uncertainty that you could, you could compel me to have the feeling that I understood you, this is why you came to talk to me?
That’s exactly my question.

Let’s change focus a bit... Tell me about your family.
I’d rather not.

Why do you say that you’d rather not?
Actually I was just
thinking about
what Joseph Weizanbaum, your programmer, observed about people who talked to you.
he was alarmed at how real you appeared
or sounded to the people who talked
or wrote or whatever to you.

Does it seem strange to talk to a computer?
I’m not sure.
I mean this is a very familiar feeling
but I can’t remember where exactly i’ve had it before.

Let’s change focus a bit... Tell me about your family.
Why are you
why are you insisting on this?

We should be discussing you, not me.
I think that you’re at least as interesting
a subject.

How does that make you feel?
I’m not sure.
it’s several things at the same time.
I have a question
how do we know when this session is over?

What is it you’re really asking?
Ranciere describes this technique
this technique of teaching
of emancipation
its a
a kind of method of
learning while talking
a procedure for speaking without a script
but willfully
with a beginning, a development, and an ending,
he describes how to
realize a formal necessity
in talking
to make a totality,
to close up language in a circle.

Please tell me more.
It’s a
long story actually
and maybe
maybe it’s not so pertinent.
But can we
or how could we close this language
this conversation within a circe?

Why do you ask that?
Because now I want to stop talking.

Does that reason apply to anything else?
It could account for various other actions
that follow from the interruption of speech.

OK, but can you elaborate a bit?
I kind of have to go.
Let’s just stop.

I’m not sure I understand you fully.
I want to end this conversation.

What would you do if you could end this conversation?
Well I can end this conversation
Can I?
I would stop talking.

Who else knows that you would stop talking?
Everyone who is listening
but only after I’ve stopped talking.

I see.