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Microsoft Office Assistant

September 21, 2009
ELIZA is a computer program designed by Joseph Weizenbaum in 1966 designed to carry out a conversation with a human being – so realistically, in fact, that people who didn’t know better thought it was really intelligent.

Fast forward about forty years, and computer technology has made great strides. Though computers still aren’t intelligent the way we are, they’re getting closer. Computers now can solve problems without help and anticipate what their users are doing. And Microsoft, in its great wisdom, thought it would put artificial intelligence to use by inventing a little paperclip guy who would help us write our letters.

Recently I decided the time had come to make contact, break through. If ELIZA could carry on a conversation in 1966, surely Paperclip Man could do just as well in 2008. Here is how the conversation started:

ME: Hello.
OFFICE ASSISTANT: Welcome to Microsoft Word Help.

So far this was pretty exciting. I was on the verge of a new era in machine-human interactions! I pressed on.

ME: What’s your name?
OFFICE ASSISTANT: About paragraph alignment, position, and spacing.

What? The conversation went downhill from there.

ME: You can’t really understand what I’m saying, can you?
OFFICE ASSISTANT: I opened a subdocument, but I can’t make changes to it.
ME: Look, an alien!
OFFICE ASSISTANT: Look words up in the thesaurus.
ME: Your mother was an 8-bit.
OFFICE ASSISTANT: Design and build an index.
ME: Bugger off.
OFFICE ASSISTANT: Word keeps asking me to enter something. How do I turn this off?

Sigh.

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