What do you get when you mix AOL, AppleScript, and artificial intelligence (AI)? Psychoanalysis, Internet style.
Kevin Fox, of fury.com, was a beta tester for AOL, and consequently has a four-letter AOL screen-name. Although a short screen name certainly beats getting stuck with something like firstname.lastname@example.org, it also has the unfortunate drawback of being easily confused with other, longer names. Thus, Fox found that he was frequently getting messages intended for others. Rather than surrender his screen name, however, Fox decided to have a little fun with the misguided masses.
"I noticed AIM [AOL Instant Messenger] had a robust script library," says Fox. "If you could hook it into a program, which would it be?" The answer he came up with was Eliza, an AI Perl program that responds to text messages with psychoanalytic-styled questions. He dubbed his new hybrid "AOLiza," and set "her" loose on August 15.
Once AOLiza was up and running, it wasn't long before she was fooling unsuspecting AOLers who messaged him by mistake. Now, AOL may not exactly be the digeratti hangout that, say, The Well is, but its members aren't stupid either -- or at least all of them aren't. AOLiza was working, and working pretty well. Users began carrying on elaborate conversations with AOLiza.
One person -- who Fox dubbed "five" -- even entered into a drawn out conversation about his ex-girlfriend with Eliza:
five: just asking if richard can tell me about some good lobster diving spots thats it if this is a problem then forget iot i dont know whats going on here
AOLiza: that is interesting. please continue.
five: continue what just ask richard when he gets home about some lobster diving up hat way thats all if you got a problem with it then forget it,this isnt worht it i dont know whats been going on or what bev has told you but i havent done anything to anybody iam the one that got used and dumped
AOLiza: tell me more about that.
five: about what
AOLiza: what do you think?
five: therers nothing to tell she us3ed me then got tired of me said i wasnt her type anymore i was possesive and controlling
AOLiza: perhaps i already know you were possesive and controlling.
five: i was huh you nuts i gave her all the room she wanted never told nhewre what to do or where to go
So how does AOLiza work? Fox set up an AppleScript that sends the text of incoming messages to a log file. A Perl script, running in the background, periodically checks the log file, and feeds the messages into AOLiza. AOLiza then responds to the messages, incorporating words from the incoming message in its response. As long as users keep messaging AOLiza, AOLiza keeps responding, usually with a question or a command.
When Fox posted transcripts of the AOLiza sessions on his Web site, his traffic suddenly went through the roof. "I didn't mean for it to turn into as big a deal as it was," he explains, pointing out that he didn't necessarily want to make fun of the people who had talked to AOLiza. Rather he wanted to showcase the technology. In fact, the sessions are somewhat painful to him "I can't even watch it when it's going on."