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Humanist Archives: March 13, 2023, 7:32 a.m. Humanist 36.439 - Weizenbaum's secretary?

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 36, No. 439.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
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        Date: 2023-03-13 07:28:46+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty <>
        Subject: Weizenbaum's secretary

You likely know the famous and apparently true anecdote about Joseph
Weizenbaum's secretary, which he relates more than once, e.g. in
Computer Power and Human Reason (1976, 6):

> I was startled to see how quickly and how very deeply people
> conversing with DOCTOR became emotionally involved with the computer
> and how unequivocally they anthropomorphized it. Once my secretary,
> who had watched me work on the program for many months and therefore
> surely knew it to be merely a computer program, started conversing
> with it. After only a few interchanges with it, she asked me to leave
> the room.

In all the quotations and citations of this anecdote I have seen, none
gives the secretary's name. This is of course not surprising when we
consider the attitudes of the time, perhaps especially in the technical
environment of a computer science department at MIT. One such citation
declares that her name is unknown. I would very much like to know
it--not enough to book a flight and spend the necessary time in the MIT
Archive with Weizenbaum's papers, but still I think what she did is
highly significant and so would like to put it into print. Should anyone
here find themselves in said Archive and has the inclination to look,
I'd be grateful for the intelligence.

Willard McCarty,
Professor emeritus, King's College London;
Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews;  Humanist

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