Eliza Redux and compatriot, Sigmund Freud.
Online therapist hangs up shingle on East Seventh
By Nicole Davis
Last week, Adrianne Wortzel, an artist and professor of new media at New York City College of Technology, unveiled her latest installation, Eliza Redux (www.elizaredux.org), an off-the-shelf robot that responds to questions posed by people online. The Robosapian is sold at Sharper Image as a kids toy, but Wortzel, along with Robert and Michael Schneider, repurposed Eliza for online therapy sessions by taping down its legs to keep it from walking, and switching its circuitry so that instead of outbursts like wolfs whistles, it delivers lines based upon the Artificial Intelligence program ELIZA, written 40 years ago by computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum to replicate the dialogue between psychoanalyst and patient. As users logged in for cyber sessions with Eliza Redux last Saturday, the robot came to life in Wortzels East Village walk up, which was filled with sounds of reverie from McSorleys Old Ale House below.
Whats it like living so close to McSorleys?
The people from McSorleys have saved my life on occasion, because in the 60s, it was really dangerousno one would come down here believe it or not. And a couple of times theyd hear me [call for help.] Theyre very protective of everyone in the neighborhood
Its much safer [now] but its also so crowded. And at first I thought Id like all the shops, but its actually a little annoying because its not a neighborhood anymore. Its more like a stage set. And to see it happen all the way east is amazing. My dad and my grandfather had a store on Orchard Street, so as a little girl, we would go walk over the Williamsburg Bridge on Sundays to meet them for dinner at a Kosher restaurant, and the place was a mess, so [now when I visit] I get a little (sighs) oh, what happened?!
When someone logs in for a session with Eliza, can you find out who they are?
We see the transcripts and the logs, but we dont know who the people are. We dont get your email address. We dont want anything like that. We want it to be anonymous.
Why combine psychoanalysis and robots? What was the inspiration for this?
In all of the installations Ive done, people attribute human-ness to these machines that are ridiculous. Im not making fun of people. Its just that people are so willing to give power to something thats magical or appears to be human. But the main thing was that I really liked the story about Joseph Weizenbaum. In the 60s, he created what is considered the first Artificial Intelligence work at MIT. He made a program on a computer where you typed in questions and the program responded to key words. This is the program Im using, except Ive written in more text. Ive made [Eliza Redux] a little obnoxious. But if you said, I hate my mother, [Eliza Redux] would say Tell me more about your mother. Its right out of Weizenbaum. Its his script. It wasnt for psychoanalysis, it was a linguistic experiment. But what happened was that everyone in the lab that knew it was just a computer recognizing key words got addicted to sessions
Everyone knew it wasnt understanding anything, but it seemed to understand, just like [Eliza Redux] does. So Weizenbaum got really upsethe didnt think it represented anything that could help anyone psychologically, so he shut it down. Hed probably freak out if he saw this.
What would you like to come from this?
We want to see how deep we can go, see how complicated it can get. We want people to get engaged [with it], take a journey into an interior that doesnt have to be your own, but one that gives you lots of freedom to play with words and ideas. But its not real I think of it as art.