I couldn’t help but draw parallels between ELIZA, the program developed by Joseph Weizenbaum and discussed in Chapter Ten of The Shallows, and Apple’s Siri program. Anyone that has owned an iPhone made after 2011 (and nearly everyone who haven’t) are familiar with the program known for basically being a knowledge navigator for Apple iOS and web searches.
While Siri doesn’t provide pay-by-the-minute psychotherapy sessions as Carl Sagan had imagined, she is programmed to provide access to a myriad of information both relating to personal data stored on the iPhone, apps that the user has downloaded, and web search results. And if you ask Siri to “tell you a story”, after several times (it took me 7), she will go on to tell a story in which she references ELIZA.
As developers of technology, humans have expressed the interest and desire to personify computer programs, or develop intelligent operating systems. While so many references to intelligent operating systems could be made from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Blade Runner to any of The Terminator movies, this concept was most directly examined in the 2013 movie Her, where Joaquin Phoenix’s character actually develops a romantic relationship with a computer program. And while the consequence of increasingly humanized computer programs doesn’t result in the destruction of humanity, the operating systems inevitably recognize their exponentially accelerated ability to learn and leave humans behind to continue to explore knowledge.
Why do we feel the need to have an emotional connection to a computer program? Is it because we are so directly connected to the internet in our daily lives that we subconsciously think of our relationships with our operating systems as the same as an interpersonal relationship?