Virtual chatbot sex
As my audio recorder runs, he describes how he used to explore caves when he was growing up; how he took a job during college loading ice blocks into railroad boxcars.
How he fell in love with my mother, became a sports announcer, a singer, and a successful lawyer.
But by the time I put that tome on the shelf, my ambitions have already moved beyond it. I think I have found a better way to keep my father alive.
It’s 1982, and I’m 11 years old, sitting at a Commodore PET computer terminal in the atrium of a science museum near my house. The computer is set up to run a program called Eliza—an early chatbot created by MIT computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum in the mid-1960s.
He tells jokes I’ve heard a hundred times and fills in biographical details that are entirely new to me.
Decades go by, and I prove better suited to journalism than programming.
“You are always going to be with me.” My dad, whose sense of humor has survived a summer of intensive cancer treatments, looks touched but can’t resist letting some of the air out of the moment. When I have the recordings professionally transcribed, they will fill 203 single-spaced pages with 12-point Palatino type.
“Thank you for your thoughts, some of which are overblown,” he says. I will clip the pages into a thick black binder and put the volume on a bookshelf next to other thick black binders full of notes from other projects.
The disease has metastasized widely throughout his body, including his bones, liver, and brain.
It is going to kill him, probably in a matter of months. This will be the first of more than a dozen sessions, each lasting an hour or more.
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Designed to mimic a psychotherapist, the bot is surprisingly mesmerizing.