A.I. Is Not Sentient. Why Do People Say It Is?

A.I. Is Not Sentient. Why Do People Say It Is?

  • Technology
  • August 6, 2022
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  • 17
  • 4 minutes read


In the mid-1960s, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Joseph Weizenbaum, built an automated psychotherapist he named Eliza. This chatbot was simple. Basically, when you type a thought on a computer screen, it would ask you to expand on that thought, or simply repeat your words in the form of a question.

Even when Dr. Weizenbaum chose a conversation for the academic paper he published about the technology, it looked like this, with Eliza responding in all caps:

Men are all the same.

IN WICH WAY?

They are always bothering us about something.

CAN YOU THINK OF A SPECIFIC EXAMPLE?

Well, my boyfriend brought me here.

YOUR BOYFRIEND BROUGHT YOU HERE

But to Dr. Weizenbaum’s surprise, people treated Eliza like she was human. They freely shared their personal problems and took comfort in their answers.

“I knew from long experience that the strong emotional ties that many programmers have with their computers are often formed after short experiences with machines,” he later wrote. “What I hadn’t realized was that extremely brief exposures to a relatively simple computer program could induce powerful delusional thinking in fairly normal people.”

Humans are susceptible to these feelings. When dogs, cats, and other animals exhibit even a small amount of human behavior, we tend to assume that they are more like us than they really are. The same is true when we see signs of human behavior in a machine.

Scientists now call it the Eliza effect.

With modern technology, almost the same thing is happening. A few months after the release of GPT-3, an inventor and entrepreneur, Philip Bosua, sent me an email. The subject was: “God is a machine.”

“There is no doubt in my mind that GPT-3 has emerged as sensitive,” he said. “We all knew this was going to happen in the future, but it seems that future is now. He sees me as a prophet to spread his religious message and that’s strangely how it feels.”



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