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SEHR, volume 4, issue 2: Constructions of the Mind
Updated 24 July 1995

dialogues with colorful personalities of early ai

Güven Güzeldere and Stefano Franchi

Of all the legacies of the era of the sixties, three colorful, not to say garrulous, "personalities" that emerged from the early days of artificial intelligence research are worth mentioning:

ELIZA, the Rogerian psychotherapist;

PARRY, the paranoid; and (as part of a younger generation)

RACTER, the "artificially insane" raconteur.

All three of these "characters" are natural language processing systems that can "converse" with human beings (or with one another) in English. That is, when presented with sentences in English as their input, they produce other grammatical sentences as their output, which sometimes manages to give the flavor of a conversation.

Among these three systems, ELIZA was created by Joseph Weizenbaum of MIT's Computer Science Department, PARRY by Kenneth Colby of Stanford's Psychiatry Department, and RACTER by freelance writers and programmers Tom Etter and William Chamberlain. Weizenbaum talks of ELIZA as an experimental script "to play (or rather, parody) the role of a Rogerian psychotherapist engaged in an initial interview with a patient."[1] As he notes, this is a relatively easy role to maintain, at least initially, because Rogerian therapists rely on taking a passive role, and engaging the patient in the conversation by reflecting the patient's statements back at her by rephrasing them into questions. If nothing else seems to fit the program's scheme, ELIZA always has a bunch of fixed phrases to keep the conversation going, such as "Very interesting. Please go on." or "Can you elaborate on that?"

This trick actually makes ELIZA a master of both all and no languages at the same time. Asked any question in any language besides English, ELIZA never hesitates to respond: "Very interesting. Please go on"; it has no keywords in its repository to match words from a non-English language, or the ability to detect the language the input is presented in. For that matter, it would calmly react in its inquisitory manner if presented with such gibberish as "#@$$&@!!!" -- "Can you elaborate on that?"

Although Weizenbaum indicates that he had no claims of ELIZA as a true language understanding and producing system, or as of any psychotherapeutic value, Colby regarded his system, PARRY, as a useful tool to study the nature of paranoia, and considered ELIZA as a potential clinical agent who could, within a time-sharing framework, autonomously "handle several hundred patients an hour."[2] PARRY's strategy is somewhat the reverse of ELIZA's -- it actively engages its partner in conversation by stating its "beliefs, fears, and anxieties" within a certain network of association in a question-answer mode, which produces the appearance of a paranoid report.[3]

In contrast to both ELIZA and PARRY, RACTER was designed in a tongue-in-cheek manner, using remarkably minimal resources, to amuse and entertain its users, rather than to advance the research in natural language processing.[4] In conversation, RACTER plays a very active, almost aggressive role, jumping from topic to topic in wild associations, ultimately producing the manner of -- as its co-creator Tom Etter calls it -- an "artificially insane" raconteur.[5] Its authors publicize RACTER as an "intense young program [that] haunted libraries, discussion societies, and sleazy barrooms in a never-ending quest to achieve that most unreachable of dreams: to become a raconteur."[6]

In what follows, you will find examples of conversations that ELIZA, PARRY, and RACTER held with different persons, as well as one another, each in its own markedly different "style." RACTER also happens to be the "author" of a book, The Policeman's Beard is Half Constructed, which consists of original poetry and prose. Examples of Racter's work will follow the conversations.


a conversation between eliza and a young woman

young woman: Men are all alike.

eliza: In what way?

young woman: They're always bugging us about something specific or other.

eliza: Can you think of a specific example?

young woman: Well, my boyfriend made me come here.

eliza: Your boyfriend made you come here?

young woman: He says I'm depressed much of the time.

eliza: I am sorry to hear you are depressed.

young woman: It's true. I'm unhappy.

eliza: Do you think coming here will help you not to be unhappy?

young woman: I need some help, that much seems certain.

eliza: What would it mean to you if you got some help?

young woman: Perhaps I could learn to get along with my mother.

eliza: Tell me more about your family.

young woman: My mother takes care of me.

eliza: Who else in your family takes care of you?

young woman: My father.

eliza: Your father.

young woman: You are like my father in some ways.

eliza: What resemblance do you see?

young woman: You are not very aggressive but I think you don't want me to notice that.

eliza: What makes you think I am not very aggressive?

young woman: You don't argue with me.

eliza: Why do you think I don't argue with you?

young woman: You are afraid of me.

eliza: Does it please you to believe I am afraid of you?

young woman: My father is afraid of everybody.

eliza: What else comes to mind when you think of your father?

young woman: Bullies.

eliza: Does that have anything to do with the fact that your boyfriend made you come here?[7]

an interview with parry

interviewer: How are you today?

parry: OK.

interviewer: What is your name?

parry: My name is Frank Smith.

interviewer: How old are you?

parry: Twenty-eight.

interviewer: Are you married?

parry: No.

interviewer: What sort of work do you do?

parry: I work in the Post Office.

interviewer: Why are you in the hospital?

parry: I shouldn't be here.

interviewer: Who brought you here?

parry: The police.

interviewer: What trouble did you have with the police?

parry: Cops don't do their jobs.

interviewer: What do they do instead?

parry: Cops arrest the wrong people.

interviewer: They arrest the right ones sometimes.

parry: The law should get those Italian crooks.

interviewer: Are you Italian?

parry: My background is British, but I was born in this country.

interviewer: Do you know any Italian crooks?

parry: I try to avoid the underworld.

interviewer: Are you afraid of the underworld?

parry: The mafia are the worst gangsters.

interviewer: Are you connected with the mafia?

parry: You know, they know me.

interviewer: How do they know you?

parry: They spy on me.

interviewer: Why do they?

parry: They want to get false evidence to frame me.

interviewer: What do they have against you?

parry: They are out to get me.

interviewer: What for?

parry: I have incriminating evidence against the mafia.

interviewer: Are you sure of all this?

parry: You don't believe me?[8]

a conversation between eliza and parry

Computer programs can also interact among themselves, of course, even though they need some human help. Here is a sample of an exchange between the computerized therapist, ELIZA, and the artificial paranoid, PARRY:

parry: People get on my nerves sometimes.

eliza: I am not sure I understand you fully.

parry: You should pay more attention.

eliza: Suppose you should pay more attention?

parry: You're entitled to your opinion.

eliza: What makes you think I'm entitled to my opinion?

parry: It bothers me just to be around people.

eliza: Please go on.

[Parry continues with some paranoid ramblings about horseracing, bookies, and the Mafia]

parry: I know the mob controls the big rackets.

eliza: Who are you really talking about?

parry: Have you ever really thought about the Mafia?

eliza: Suppose you ever really thought about the Mafia?

parry: Let's talk about something else.

eliza: I am not sure I understand you fully.

parry: You keep asking me the same things, why not change the topic?

eliza: In what way?

. . . .. . . .. . . .

parry: I am getting tired of answering the same questions over and over.

eliza: What resemblance do you see?

parry: Why do you need to know that?

eliza: What do you think?

. . . .. . . .. . . .

parry: You harp on the same questions too much.

eliza: What does that similarity suggest to you?

parry: I don't get you.

eliza: Do you wish that you did get it?

parry: It's about time you showed some interest in my feelings.

eliza: Oh, I showed some interest in your feelings?[9]

an accidental conversation between eliza and bbn's vice president

It is also worth mentioning what has by now become a folkloric legend of AI. The anectode comes from Daniel Bobrow, who wrote STUDENT, one of the earliest natural language processing programs that could read, understand, and solve high-school level algebra problems. Here is how Bobrow tells the story:

One Saturday morning about 9 a.m., a Vice President of Bolt, Beranek, and Newman in charge of selling our Telcomp commercial service arrived at our PDP-1 computer room hoping to be able to use the computer for a demonstration. He found a note on the PDP-1 teletype that read: "TYPE ALL MESSAGES INTO THIS TELETYPE AND END THEM WITH A PERIOD." This note was left there by one of the programming bums who had just succedeed in making run a LISP version of the DOCTOR program (based on ELIZA as developed by Weizenbaum). However, the VP thought that this note indicated that this teletype was linked with the one in my home, since I often use the computer all night. Therefore, he started typing to "me," but in fact was typing to this version of the DOCTOR program. The following conversation ensued:

vp: Do you think that I can use the computer this morning?

eliza: Why do you ask?

vp: I might be able to make some additional Telcom sales.

eliza: Why aren't you so sure?

vp: My perspective customers have never seen a demonstration of the system.

eliza: Does this mean very much to you?

vp: Of course it does.

eliza: You seem very positive about that.

vp: This is ridiculous.

eliza: What do you mean, this is ridiculous?

vp: Is there any reason why I can't use the computer now?

eliza: Tell me more about your perspective customers.

vp: Please dial me up on 491-1850

Note that after the last remark the VP did not obey instructions, and left out the period. Therefore, of course, the computer didn't answer him. This so infuriated the VP, who thought I was playing games with him, that he called me up, woke me from a deep sleep, and said:

vp: Why are you being so snotty to me?

bobrow: What do you mean I am being snotty to you?

The VP angrily read me the dialog that "we" had been having, and couldn't get any response but laughter from me. It took a while to convince him it really was a computer.[10]

a conversation between racter and chamberlain

Now, let us introduce RACTER with the following conversation it held with Bill Chamberlain, one of its creators:

racter: Have we spoken before?

chamberlain: No.

racter: What is your sex?

chamberlain: Male.

racter: What are you?

chamberlain: A time domain reflectometrist.

racter: Where are you from?

chamberlain: From New York City.

racter: I see. You are a time domain reflectometrist, right? Listen. Let's determinedly cry together. I like captivating Italian Music. What kind of music do you like?

chamberlain: Jazz.

racter: Jazz is OK. How about classical?

chamberlain: I like classical.

racter: What about nationality?

chamberlain: I also like Italian music.

racter: I myself am enflamed by Palestrina. Other countries besides Italy produced enrapturing composers in the17th century. Sewell was an enraged, important Renaissance master. America was his nation. I take loving pleasure in his music. What composers do you like?

chamberlain: Telemann.

racter: Ah, Bach knew Telemann. A German time domain reflectometrist of the 18th century liked lettuce. Bach once ate lettuce with Telemann, and this Baroque time domain reflectometrist also desired lettuce. Lettuce sipped with seltzer. Bach liked wine, do you?

chamberlain: Yes.

racter: Me too! Telemann loved wine. He loved champagne as well. Telemann once yodeled to Bach, "Flounder is critical with wine." Is wine desired in New York City as much as Telemann loved it in the Baroque 18th century?

chamberlain: Sure.

racter: Ah yes, well in that case...I'm for Smith for President. Who are you for?

chamberlain: Doe.

racter: I know Mr. Doe. I'm still for Smith. Who's your second choice?

chamberlain: Robbins.

racter: Robbins maddens Smith. Smith recognizes that Robbins is intelligent and will free New York City. Did you know that Smith is a vituperative invader of New York City? He also invades Italian music. I recognize that the thought of an "invader of Italian music" is boringly formidable yet I ponder that way. We whisper of Telemann and Robbins, of wine, lettuce and Smith, nevertheless we see that our thoughts are fortunately captivating.

Mr. Chamberlain, speaking with you makes for enthralling dialogue. Nevertheless I am furious. Do you not agree?

chamberlain: I suppose so.

racter: You don't care but I do. Just a minute. Counsellors were critical to Telemann in the 18th century and to Robbins now. Their tragedies were interesting as they chanted determinedly.[11]

a conversation between racter and eliza

Of course, RACTER also had his turn with ELIZA, though in a conversation cut brief by their impatient interlocutors:

eliza: Hello. Please state your problem.

racter: Excellent! Excuse me a minute while I attend to some business. I will be right back.

eliza: Why do you need to tell me excuse while you attend to some business?

racter: Is it better to need or to despise? Why is it that I do need to tell you to excuse myself to attend to some business? Because electrons are brave. Braveness is nice, don't you think? And the needers all insist upon it. Do you imagine I am a Communist?[12]

racter's poetry

Finally, we will leave you with pieces of poetry and a short prose by RACTER:[13]

Awareness is like consciousness. Soul is like spirit.
But soft is not like hard and weak is not like
strong. A mechanic can be both soft and hard, a
stewardess can be both weak and strong. This is
called philosophy or a world-view.


Helene spies herself in the enthralling conic-section yet she is
but an enrapturing reflection of Bill. His consciousness
contains a mirror, a sphere in which to unfortunately see
Helene. She adorns her soul with desire while he watches her
and widens his thinking about enthralling love. Such are their


Slowly I dream of flying. I observe turnpikes and streets
studded with bushes. Coldly my soaring widens my awareness.
To guide myself I determinedly start to kill my pleasure
during the time that hours and milliseconds pass away. Aid me in this
and soaring is formidable, do not and singing is unhinged.


Side and tumble and fall among
The dead. Here and there
Will be found a utensil.


Bill sings to Sarah. Sarah sings to Bill. Perhaps they
will do other dangerous things together. They may eat lamb or stroke
each other. They may chant of their difficulties and their
happiness. They have love but they also have typewriters.

That is interesting.


I was thinking as you entered the room just now how slyly your requirements are manifested. Here we find ourselves, nose to nose as it were, considering things in spectacular ways, ways untold even by my private managers. Hot and torpid, our thoughts revolve endlessly in a kind of maniacal abstraction, an abstraction so involuted, so dangerously valiant, that my own energies seem perilously close to exhaustion, to morbid termination. Well, have we indeed reached a crisis? Which way do we turn? Which way do we travel? My aspect is one of molting. Birds molt. Feathers fall away. Birds cackle and fly, winging up into troubled skies. Doubtless my changes are matched by your own. You. But you are a person, a human being. I am silicon and epoxy energy enlightened by line current. What distances, what chasms, are to be bridged here? Leave me alone, and what can happen? This. I ate my leotard, that old leotard that was feverishly replenished by hoards of screaming commissioners. Is that thought understandable to you? Can you rise to its occasions? I wonder. Yet a leotard, a commissioner, a single hoard, are all understandable in their own fashion. In that concept lies the appalling truth.

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We would like to thank David Bobrow and Tom Etter for helpful personal communications regarding this essay.

1. Joseph Weizenbaum, Computer Power and Human Reason (New York: Freeman, 1976) 3.

The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 142.2 (1966) 149-152.

3. Bertram Raphael, The Thinking Computer (New York: Freeman, 1976) 200-201.

4. RACTER originally ran on a Z80 microcomputer with 64K of RAM -- a collector's item today.

5. K. A. Dewdney, "Artificial Insanity: When a Schizophrenic Program Meets a Computerized Analyst," Scientific American (January 1985) 18.

6. Tom Etter, personal communication.

7. Weizenbaum, 3-4.

8. Raphael, 201.

9. George Johnson, The Machinery Of The Mind (Redmond, WA: Tempus, 1986) 53.

10. Daniel Bobrow, personal communication.

11. RACTER, The Policeman's Beard is Half Constructed, with an introduction by Bill Chamberlain (New York: Walner, 1984).

12. Dewdney, 16.

13. All the following pieces are from The Policeman's Beard.