Zachtronics is easily best known for puzzle games like Opus Magnum (opens in new tab), which we were quite impressed with back in 2017. Its other games are in a similar vein, tricky puzzles that make you feel like you've earned a degree when you master them. On August 12, Zachtronics is releasing a very different style of game.
Eliza, named for the in-game AI, is a visual novel about an artificial intelligence counselling program. The game will follow Evelyn Ishino-Aubrey, a human proxy whose job "consists solely of reading a script provided to her in real-time by an AI, leaving her no autonomy over what she says." It looks as if the Eliza program will show a deep amount of data on its subjects as you talk with them—heart rate, respiration, vocal distress, and more. It's almost uncanny to look at, knowing what technology we already possess is capable of. An AI-directed counseling program may not be so far off in our future.
Eliza's description expresses the same reservations, hinting at the themes it will address (the trailer is quite brief). Would AI counseling be an equalizer that helps those without access to counseling receive it? Or would it be "another vector for technology companies to gain control over our lives and humanity?" The game takes place in Seattle, where Evelyn will reconnect with people from her past and also get to know those who use and benefit from the Eliza program.
If Eliza's narrative has anywhere near the intricacy of Opus Magnum's puzzles, we should be in for an interesting examination of artificial intelligence and its impact on the human psyche. AI has the ability to reduce labor costs, making so many industries more accessible. Though Eliza does retain the human element through Evelyn reading a script as directed, it seems.
As we see with everything from the Steam Store's algorithms to Amazon's recommendations, human intuition is difficult to replicate and machines have a way of misinterpreting and misjudging. As Eliza's page asks, "Is AI-driven counseling better than nothing? Is it worse than nothing?" Something tells me that won't be a straight-forward answer.
Eliza is due out on August 12th, and you can wishlist it on Steam (opens in new tab) until then.