If software is narrative: Joseph Weizenbaum, artificial intelligence, and the biographies of ELIZA

2018-09-21T13:25:26Z (GMT) by Simone Natale
Software is usually studied in terms of the changes triggered by its operations in the material world. Yet, to understand its social and cultural impact, one needs to examine also the different narratives that circulate about it. Software’s opacity, in fact, makes it prone to being translated into a plurality of narratives that help people make sense of its functioning and presence. Drawing from the case of Joseph Weizenbaum’s ELIZA, widely considered the first chatbot ever created, this paper proposes a theoretical framework based on the concept of “biographies of media” to illuminate the dynamics and implications of software’s discursive life. The case of ELIZA is particularly relevant in this regard because it became the center of competing narratives, whose trajectories transcended the actual functioning of this program and shaped key controversies about the implications of computing and AI.