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How We Got Siri: The History Of Talking To Machines (AAPL)

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Siri represents a mainstream success in getting people to communicate with their electronics, but it's hardly the first time someone talked to a computer.

Siri has plenty of ancestors dating all the way back to the 1960s, before anyone even heard the term "artificial intelligence."

Did you know that the first program that understood typed English was created as a means to provide therapy to the user?

How intelligent can software become? Can it ever be "alive?"

The ability to talk to machines raises all of these questions and more. We caught an excellent episode of Radiolab on WNYC that tackles all of them.

Conversation is endlessly complex, but computers can be programmed to understand it

Language is totally nuts. Consider things like grammar, syntax, tone, and sarcasm. In order for a computer to communicate seamlessly with a user, it should understand all these aspects of language.

And here's the scary thing: the best programmers can make this happen.



It's not easy though

It's pretty amazing that a computer can turn something as complex as human speech into ones and zeroes.

Even the most basic human actions are made up of countless subroutines. If we want to put on a hat, for example, we just put it on. But for a computer to understand "put on a hat," it has to know what a hat is. Then it has to "locate the hat,""pick up the hat," and "place hat on head."

Well-programmed chatbots can understand loads of these primitive elements of language.



This guy started the "talking to computers" thing

The idea of personally communicating with a computer started in 1966.

MIT professor Joseph Weizenbaum became aware of "non-directive Rogerian therapy." It was a system in which a therapist would identify key words that a patient used and repeat them back.

For example, a patient might say, "I'm feeling depressed today." The therapist would say, "I'm sorry to hear you're feeling depressed.

Weizenbaum thought that behavior would be easy enough to program, so he did. He called it ELIZA, and it changed everything.



See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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