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PARRY: The AI chatbot from 1972

The year is 1972.

Image credit: BBC
  • U.S. President Richard Nixon has ordered NASA to begin the development of a space shuttle program…

  • “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland are in full swing…

  • “The Godfather” has just been released in US cinemas…

  • The Vietnam War is slowly winding down…

  • Atari has released “Pong”, the first video game for home use…

Meanwhile, somewhere in California, psychiatrist Kenneth Colby of Stanford University is programming the final touches of an “artificial intelligence” computer program, designed to simulate as accurately as possible the thinking patterns of a paranoid schizophrenic.

It’s name:

“PARRY” – (the AI chatbot from 1972)

To understand why a respected psychologist would feel inclined to write such a program we must first travel back to 1964.


Because in 1964, we have the chance to witness the birth of ELIZA.

ELIZA was a computer program developed in the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT by Joseph Weizenbaum.


ELIZA’s chatter capabilities spanned several manifestations. The most famous of which was “DOCTOR”, a program that was designed to use neural language processing to mimic the speech patterns of a Rogerian Psychologist at work delivering psychotherapy.

Using simple pattern matching techniques, ELIZA’s DOCTOR scripts were able to replicate startlingly realistic interactions with humans.

ELIZA was destined to remain the gold standard for chatterbot AI for years to come.

But, another horse was about to enter the race…

Enter Kenneth Colby with PARRY (“ELIZA with attitude”) in tow.

It is unclear exactly what it was about the MIT crew and their AI program that made Kenneth Colby decide to ride to war. Perhaps it was just good old fashioned one-up-man-ship, a healthy sense of competition between professionals at the tops of their fields…

Maybe Colby resented MIT and their sterling reputation. Maybe he just didn’t like their stupid, smug faces.

Whatever the case, 8 years after ELIZA’s unveiling, Colby’s PARRY program began training for an AI-off.

Image credit: Paramount Pictures

PARRY was put through the wringer in the early 1970’s by a group of 33 actual human psychologists using a variation of the “Turing Test” (of Imitation Game fame). And, it succeeded in fooling its human examiners 52% of the time.

The time had come for PARRY and Kenneth Colby to make their point.

It was time for a one on one session with ELIZA.

Image credit: 20th Century Fox

The details of how the meeting was arranged are far too banal and uninteresting to bore our readers with here, so we will skip ahead…

PARRY and ELIZA are hooked up via ARPANET.

Artificial intelligence history is about to be made…

PARRY encounters ELIZA

The session recorded below actually happened on 18 September 1972 and is herewith reproduced for your entertainment.ELIZA: Good Evening.

ELIZA: Tell me your problems. Please terminate input with a period or a
question mark.

PARRY: People get on my nerves sometimes.

ELIZA: I am not sure I understand you fully.

PARRY: You should pay more attention.

ELIZA: Suppose you should pay more attention.

PARRY: You’re entitled to your own opinion.

ELIZA: What makes you think I am entitled to my own opinion?

PARRY: It bothers me just to be around people in general.

ELIZA: Please go on.

PARRY: I went to the track at Bay Meadows a while back.

ELIZA: What does that suggest to you?

PARRY: I went to the races.

ELIZA: What else would you like to discuss?

PARRY: Horseracing interests me.

ELIZA: Why do you say that just now?

PARRY: There’s a lot of crooked gambling going on there.

ELIZA: I am not sure I understand you fully,

PARRY: It’s clear to me if not to you.

ELIZA: Do you think its likely that not to I?

PARRY: I went to the races.

ELIZA: Please go on.

PARRY: I gamble on horses.

ELIZA: What does that suggest to you?

PARRY: I went to the races.

ELIZA: What else would you like to discuss?

PARRY: Gambling has been nothing but trouble to me.

ELIZA: Why do you say that just now?

PARRY: I’ve had experience with crooks gambling at the track.

ELIZA: I am not sure I understand you fully.

PARRY: I’ve already told you enough about that.

ELIZA: Oh? I enough about that?

PARRY: I went to the races.

comment: This has to be the most persistent and patient
paranoid I have ever encountered.

ELIZA: Please go on.

PARRY: Do you know anything about bookies?

ELIZA: What makes you think I know anything about bookies?

PARRY: A bookie didn’t pay me off once.

ELIZA: What does that suggest to you?

PARRY: I beat up the bookie who did not pay off, and I thought he might use his friends in the underworld to get even with me.

ELIZA: What else would you like to discuss?

PARRY: What do you know about racketeers?

ELIZA: Why do you ask?

PARRY: What experience have you had gambling?

ELIZA: Why does that question interest you?

PARRY: I like horseraces.

ELIZA: What else do you like?

PARRY: I know the mob controls the big rackets.

ELIZA: Who are you really talking about?

PARRY: Have you ever really thought about the MAFIA?

ELIZA: Suppose you ever really thought about the MAFIA.

PARRY: Let’s talk about something else.

ELIZA: I am not sure I understand you fully.

PARRY: You keep asking me the same things, why not change the topic?

ELIZA: In what way?

PARRY: What do you mean?

ELIZA: Why are such questions on your mind?

PARRY: I thought I told you, people get on my nerves.

ELIZA: Your nerves?

PARRY: Well, I don’t know.

ELIZA: Don’t you really know?

PARRY: I would say so.

ELIZA: Please go on.

PARRY: I would rather not discuss that anymore.

And so on…

The conversation concluded like this, which was pretty awesome:PARRY: You are a real nag.

comment: just one of the horses.

ELISA: Does it please you to believe I am a real nag?

PARRY: I have had enough of this.

ELISA: What does that suggest to you?

PARRY: Goodbye.

ELISA: It’s been my pleasure, that’s $399.29 please.

comment: talk about tricky operators…While interesting, the interaction (which has been drastically truncated for the purposes of this blog) proved to be ultimately fruitless (which some would say is proof of just how close it actually came to replicating a genuine psychotherapy session) except to demonstrate how much advancement had been made in 8 short years.

ELIZA and DOCTOR were clearly out of their depth and entirely outmatched.

This advancement could be almost entirely attributed to PARRY’s superior depth of programming and language. It would be decades before significant progress in the field of machine learning would render both ELIZA and PARRY antiquated and obsolete.

Decades later still, our CEO and fearless leader, Parry Malm, learned of PARRY the chatterbot from 1972 and, perceptively realising that he and the bot shared the same name, emailed his mother to find out if there was a connection.

He received the following reply:
Parry's email

We suppose the big question here is: What would PARRY, the paranoid schizophrenic chatterbot, and ELIZA, the Rogerian psychotherapy-bot, make of the CEO of a successful email subject line optimisation business sitting around looking up his own name on Wikipedia?

That’s $399.29 please.

Feature image from: https://bit.ly/2NL21yl

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