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My first interaction with a computer was at Sydney's old Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, when I was a child. They had a computer that you could play 'noughts & crosses' (or tic-tac-toe) against. I proceeded to beat the machine, but it refused to light up my winning-point on its interface. Perhaps it wasn't programmed to lose. Many years later, the machine was put on display, as an antique, at the Powerhouse Museum - with a sign saying that it had never been beaten. I seriously thought of taking issue with the curators over this point. Needless to say, I have a healthy mistrust of computers and their programmers (especially Microsoft) - but that's another story.


The British scientist and mathematician, Alan M. Turing (1912-1954), probably started the artificial intelligence ball rolling with his now famous paper ``Computing Machinery and Intelligence''. In it, he gave a description of an 'imitation game' to test for machine intelligence:

``If conversation with a computer is indistinguishable from that with a human, the computer is displaying intelligence.''

Ever since, scientists in the AI-field have been torn between trying to build machines and programs capable of undertaking the test and trying to rewrite the rules of the test, itself. Nevertheless, this is a fascinating field and, while acting as a (very) unofficial NSW Attorney-General's Department representative to the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI) at Sydney's Darling Harbour in 1991, I tried my damnest to find out what its proponents were up to.

'Fifth generation' software was by then all the range and the Japanese seemed to be beating everybody in the AI-race. MIT, the long-standing leaders in the field, were doing their best to press on regardless with an ever-expanding list of books, papers and associated material, but seemed clearly worried by the combined effects of inscrutible Japanese know-how and massive economic investment. I, for my part, was simply seeking research material for my book, in which I sought to show that the adoption of holistic principles to both AI and conventional brain-science principles would allow for the development of a range of new software and hardware applications that could revolutionise society.

Now, some five years later, I wonder what all the fuss was about. AI has been overtaken, in two fell swoops, within the public interest and the computer journals - firstly by the emergence of virtual reality and now by the internet. It still has its uses, but without that gleam in the public eye for its principles and potential, it seems to be fighting a losing battle for recognition. Perhaps the recent rise of WWW search-robots (or 'bots', as they are affectionately known) will see a resurgence of its appeal.


I've been toying with various versions of programs like ELIZA for some years, and have assembled a mass of ideas for developing its basic functionality. However time, lack of programming ability and a diversity of other interests prevent me from producing anything worthy of my speculations. One thing that I notice at present, though, is the continuing development of computers that 'understand' spoken commands and language - mainly word processors.Real Doll

Surely it won't be long before somebody marries this ability with speech synthesis and an ELIZA-like program to create a computer that people can have conversations with. Add to this some texture-mapped graphics and a lifelike entity within a computer would seem only a stone's throw away. I'd though about all this long before I stumbled upon the Virtual Personalities site - which seems to be the current state of the art - but how about marrying this with, say, Real Doll technology and modern robotics for some real Blade Runner fun?

In the meantime, if you want to read a 'computer generated story', try my Random Story page. I also had a scripted, animated page - "Merlin's Page"- that used Microsoft Agent, but removed it as it was troublesome.





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ELIZA was the original therapist/conversationalist program. It was put together as a joke - unfortunately people began taking it very seriously indeed. The version below operates very slowly (as responses have to travel over the net), but it should at least give novices a feel for the program and how it operates.

Eliza: Hello. I am ELIZA. How can I help you?

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URL: http://homepages.tig.com.au/~avanstar
Alex Van Starrex