This sci-fi game predicted our current AI landscape four years ago

Like many others, I’m currently fascinated—and a little terrified—by the rapid advances in artificial intelligence. While it seems like the technology could be used for good, several of its applications leave me concerned. Websites have replaced human writers with error-prone robots, Hollywood refuses to protect its creative talent from technology, and AI-generated games like Sumner they warned about bot plagiarism. Although in the last few months I have been most concerned about the existence of AI therapy.

Currently, there are a handful of services available that automate therapy in some way. Woebot is an “automated chat agent” that is being pitched as a personal mental health tool. Users can check in with it every day to have short conversations with the chatbot, which will send them wellness tips and videos. Wysa, on the other hand, pairs users with an AI trainer, but Premium users can add 1:1 human support. Given how much traditional therapy relies on connecting with a real person, the idea of ​​automating it seems like a recipe for disaster.

There’s a reason why I’m particularly intrigued by all of this. This is because of a small visual novel called Eliza. Released in 2019, the indie gem quietly predicted AI’s troubling move into mental health. It’s an excellent cautionary tale about the complexity of automating the human connection — one that tech entrepreneurs could learn a lot from.

Welcome to Eliza

Set in Seattle, Eliza follows a character named Evelyn Ishino-Aubrey who begins work at a new technology venture created by the fictional Apple-like megacorporation Skandha. The company has created a virtual counseling app, called Eliza, that offers users AI-guided therapy sessions at a relatively affordable price.

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However, Eliza is not just a faceless chatbot. To retain the human element of face-to-face therapy, the app employs human mediators who sit with clients in person and read the bot’s generated responses in real time. Skandha claims he has his methodology down to a science, so proxies are prohibited from deviating from the script in any way. They are simply there to add a tangible face to the advice the machine spits out.


The game resists the urge to present the idea as an overly dystopian concept. Instead, he opts for a tone based in realism, similar to that of Spike Jonze Her. This allows him to ask some serious and nuanced questions about automating human interactions that were ahead of their time. The five-hour story questions whether such AI application is a pure benefit, making something as expensive as therapy more accessible, or simply an exploitative big-tech business decision that trades human interaction for easy profit.

Players explore these questions ElizaVisual novel systems. Interaction here is minimal, with players simply choosing dialogue options for Evelyn. It does have a big impact on her sessions though. Throughout the story, Evelyn meets several regular customers who subscribe to the service. Some are simply there to talk about the low-stakes drama in their lives, but others come to the ministry with more serious issues. Regardless of the severity of one’s individual situation, Eliza spits out the same blanket script for Evelyn’s reading, asking some recurring questions throughout the sessions and prescribing breathing exercises and medication.

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The more Evelyn becomes invested in the lives of her clients, the more she begins to see the limitations of technology. Some of Eliza’s advice is not a universal solution to all problems, and more problematic clients start begging for real help from a real person. Players have the choice to go off script and let Evelyn take matters into her own hands, a move that has serious implications for both her job and the well-being of her clients.

The technical executive gives a speech about the wellness app in Eliza.Image used with permission of the copyright holder

It’s not always the right answer. While some of her advice gives clients the help they need, others fall in love even more. Her words can be twisted in ways she didn’t expect, something Eliza’s secure algorithm was built to protect against. Is it safer to stick to a sterilized script or at least try to make a real connection? And is this kind of technology ultimately more harmful than helpful or vice versa?

Eliza doesn’t answer those questions, leaving it up to the players to chew on. It’s a thoughtful examination of modern technology that’s only become more urgent with the emergence of services like Wys that come dangerously close to fictional game technology. Whether you’re for or against AI tools like ChatGPT, Eliza will provide a thoughtful cautionary tale about the limitations of both machines and humans.

Eliza is available on PC and Nintendo Switch.

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Categories: GAMING

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