Task: Explore Chatbots on the Atari 8-bit Computer
Needed: Altirra emulator or original hardware with disk drive
Time: 15-30 mins
Chatbots have grown in popularity as natural language processing (NLP) has improved. An example is the Woebot developed by psychologists to assist people who are in need of cognitive behavioral therapy. Chatbots had their origin in the 1960s. One of the early chatbots was the ELIZA program developed at MIT. ELIZA employed very simple NLP and used some tricks to give the illusion that it is understanding what you are saying. For example, the computer could ask how you are feeling and you might say you are feeling blue. The computer could respond by saying “Tell me more about that” which implies the computer has listed, understood, and responded as a human would. A version of ELIZA called DOCTOR functions as psychotherapist and became very popular. The book Experiments in Artificial Intelligence for Small Computers by John Krutch (1981) provides a nice description of DOCTOR with accompanying BASIC code. A PDF scan of the book is available on archive.org.
ELIZA is available in BASIC for the Atari. Here is an article on ELIZA by Steve North which appeared in Creative Computing (1980). Interestingly, there is also a chatbot called Abuse which hurls insults at you. This one is also fun to try as well. Get ready to be abused!
The BASIC code for Abuse is also available from Atari Mania. This one comes in a self-booting ATR file.
These are really fun to try and give you a glimpse into the state of NLP and AI in the 1960s and 1970s. Chatbots have come a long way since then!