When Stefanie Tellex was 10 or 12, around 1990, she learned to program. Her great-aunt had given her instructional books and she would type code into her father’s desktop computer. One program she typed in was a famous artificial intelligence program called ELIZA, which aped a psychotherapist. Tellex would tap out questions, and ELIZA would respond with formulaic text answers. “I was just fascinated with the idea that a computer could talk to you,” Tellex says, “that a computer could be alive, like a person is alive.” Even ELIZA’s rote answers gave her a glimmer of what might be possible.
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