How many of you have read that excellent novel, Gateway? And, pray tell, how many of you remember the novel’s most important character? No, I’m not talking about Robinette Broadhead, though it’s true that he gets more space then the other guy. I’m talking about the wise, kindly and super-smart computer who goes by the name of “Sigfrid von Shrink.”

Happens I know that there were groups of readers who paid special attention to Siggy because I know that a couple of them, one around MIT in Massachusetts and the other in England, tried to build working models of Sigfrid for themselves.

(Actually that’s not hard. I believe both groups were inspired by a math-teaching program that I had seen in operation in, if I remember correctly, North Carolina and written something about at the time. These pseudo-Sigfrids were not really at all intelligent, but they could carry on a conversation, and if you looked at a transcript of it it looked pretty much like a real psychologist and couch session.)

Anyway, for reasons connected with the movie business, I’d like to know if any old Sigfrid-builders are still around. If you are, or if you know of someone who is, please drop me a line c/o this blog.


  1. Joe D says:

    What you’re looking for is Eliza.

    See .

    There are links to a number of implementations.

    Back in the day, I ran a BBS with an Eliza program labeled “chat”. People would talk to it thinking they were talking to me. Good times…

  2. Ace Lightning says:

    Any computer can emulate a psychologist (of a particular type). It simply requires a program like the mid-1960s ELIZA:

    This program works by taking the “patient’s” statements and manipulating them according to some surprisingly simple rules, which made the resulting responses seem as if the computer were dispassionately reflecting the “patient’s” remarks in order to elicit self-analysis. This is the style of a “Rogerian” therapist, and it also sidesteps the computer’s inability to keep abreast of human concerns such as popular entertainment, food, and daily news.

    Programs such as ELIZA take very little computing power; they can run on almost any kind of hardware, including a modern PC – I daresay there’s even a smartphone app that’ll do it.

  3. David Dyer-Bennet says:

    There’s an Eliza version in Emacs. There’s also a Zippy the Pinhead quote collection.

    AND there’s a command “psychoanalyze-pinhead” that hooks the two together and lets them run.

  4. H. E. Parmer says:

    Heck, I had a version of ELIZA — written in LISP, IIRC — that ran under CP/M on my old Kaypro II, with its twin floppy disk drives and whopping 64K of RAM. (I’ve really dated myself now, haven’t I?)

    And in answer to your first question, I read Gateway back when it was first published in paperback.

  5. Keith Graham says:

    I ported the classic Eliza program to Javascript a year or so ago. Javascript is a good language for this kind of thing because it runs in the browser and doesn’t need a compiler or even a website to run.

    Eliza was pretty simplistic, but the structure of question and response is there and easily extensible. Without too much trouble, you could take the text of Siggy’s questions and load them into the question list and set a bunch of keywords to trigger the appropriate questions without changing the logic much.

    See the javascript version:


  6. Edward Kmett says:

    ELIZA was the first one. (1964-1966)

    There is a documentary on the creation of the original ELIZA.

    There are a whole school of ELIZA-like chatterbot programs out there.

    As for more recent news, there is an annual competition, which bounces around universities where they award the “Loebner Prize” (, for the best chatterbot as judged by a short 5-minute Turing Test.

    Probably one of the best known to my generation is

    which was distributed with Sound Blaster cards in the 1990s as a way to show off speech synthesis capabilities.

    More recent chat bots, which have competed in the contest include (1995-2004)

    which you can play with at

    Others include


  7. Marc says:

    Although I haven’t looked at this recently, I’ve had more than a passing interest in this over the years (Ai project aspirations/concepts), so probably worth a comment.

    You’d be hard pushed to find a chatbot that has the same personality traits/defects as Sigfrid however that aside I think the best resources would be.

    The Chatterbox Challenge
    Chat Bots

    “Alice” was a favourite of mine however it seems to have gone backwards in recent years. Alice was “reasonably” capable of entering into philosophical conversations regarding its creator and god but sadly Alice no longer seem to be up to the job.

    “Bildesymthe” seems to the best of the bunch at the moment. It converses very well and more importantly understands context and can keep the thread of a conversation (to a degree), which is something that Alice struggled with.

    Can you expand on “for reasons connected with the movie business”? This sounds like potentially very excepting news! :)

  8. Anant (Infinity) says:

    I recently read the novel Gateway and am convinced it is the one of the five best scince-fiction (or as I like to call them – “frontier fiction” novels ever published. If a movie is to be made of the story, may I suggest Tobey Maguire as Robinette Broadhead and Simon Baker (of “The Mentalist”) as Sigfrid von Shrink.