Joseph Weizenbaum was born of Jewish parents on January 8, 1923
in Berlin, Germany. He received his early education there. He matriculated in
Berlin's Luisenstaedtisches Realgymansium in 1934 but was dismissed after two
semesters in consequence of the newly enacted "racial laws". In 1936
his family emigrated to the United States of America. He began his university
studies at Wayne University in Detroit, Michigan in 1941 but left the university
in 1942 to serve in the United States Army Air Corps. He was honorably discharged
in 1946 and
then resumed his studies in mathematics.
While a research assistant in the university's mathematics department, Weizenbaum
helped design, build and operate a, for that time large, digital computer. He
completed his studies in mathematics in 1952 but concentrated on computers for
the rest of his professional life. There followed a stint in industry ending
with a eight year period with the General Electric Company where he was responsible
for the hardware-software integration of a pioneering computer project for the
Bank of America, then the largest American bank.. In 1963 Weizenbaum was called
to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where, in addition to his
teaching duties, he was to participate in another
pioneering effort: the design and implementation of the first large time-sharing system for computers. The first computer network, the so-called ARPA net, was in part a product of that research and the original model for today's Internet. Prof. Weizenbaum's research turned to "conversational" computing. While in
that mode, he produced the ELIZA program which, though primitive by current standards, made communication with the computer in natural language possible.
After twenty-five years of service at MIT, Professor Weizenbaum retired and
was appointed Professor Emeritus and Senior Lecturer at the Institute. During
his active university career, Prof. Weizenbaum wrote, in addition to many papers
the professional journals, "Computer Power and Human Reason", a book that was translated into at least ten languages and serves, over twenty years after its original publication, as required reading in most serious university computer science (Informatiks) curricula. He was a Fellow of the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, California (1972-1973), a Vinton Hayes Research Scholar at Harvard University (1973-1974) and a visiting professor at many universities, among them the Technical University of Berlin,
The Harvard Graduate School of Education and the University of Hamburg.
He was recently a visiting Professor of Informatik at the University of Bremen. Among his honors are the Doctor of Science Degree, h.c. from the State University of New York, and a Doctor of Humane Letters, h.c. from Daniel Webster College of New Hampshire, as well as an honorary doctorate from the University of Bremen. He is the recipient of the Norbert Wiener Prize awarded by the Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (USA) and the Namour Prize of the
International Federation of Information Societies for his work on societal aspects of the computer revolution, as well as a prize for "lifetime achievement" from FIFF (Informatiker fuer Frieden und soziale Verantwortung). He received a Humboldt Prize from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (Germany) which allowed him to be a resident at the Albert-Ludwigs-University at
Freiburg during the year 1994 to 1995.