Exploring in Plain Text: Zork, SHRDLU, and Colossal Cave Adventure

Misplaced hype over the recent generation of chatbots and โ€œAIโ€ applications shows just how much technology comes full circle. Lauded as the next big development, most conversational user interfaces are actually more primitive than some programs developed in the 1960s and 1970s. Sure, Slackโ€™s Slackbot (~2014) can interpret natural language like โ€œtomorrowโ€ and โ€œnext weekโ€ instead of being fed perfectly formatted dates, but check out the capabilities of 1968โ€™s SHRDLU โ€” a conversational program that had the user ask the computer to interact with a world of 3D shapes around it:

Person: Can a pyramid support a pyramid?

Computer: I DON’T KNOW.

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