Our worlds are composed of the stories we tell ourselves. In 1966, Joseph Weizenbaum saw the potential in the computers of his day to create a program for the purpose not of processing information or doing scientific calculations, but for the sole intention of making a relationship. A computer program with the goal of evoking our personal stories and through them creating an emotional connection. This program was ELIZA.
ELIZA took the form of what we now call a chatbot. She was presented as a “mock (Rogerian) Psychotherapist.” Participants would write to her and she would respond with relevant questions or statements that fueled further conversation. The perception of empathy from ELIZA was so strong that participants often requested privacy while talking to her.
It can be easy these days to mistake ELIZA for her descendants—natural language personal assistants like Siri or Alexa. While this software has advanced considerably in the course of the last 50 years, the change in focus to transactional interactions—language as interface—obscures the revolutionary personal narratives that ELIZA created. Writing about his creation for his academic peers in January 1966, Weizenbaum prefaced:
“It is said that to explain is to explain away. This maxim is nowhere so well fulfilled as in the area of computer programming. … For in those realms machines are made to behave in wondrous ways, often sufficient to dazzle even the most experienced observer. But once a particular program is unmasked, once its inner workings are explained in language sufficiently plain to induce understanding, its magic crumbles away; it stands revealed as a mere collection of procedures, each quite comprehensible.”
In the intervening half-century of advancement, as software has gotten more complex, it is in some ways easier to see the revolutionary nature of ELIZA. Even in their infancy, computer programs had already been vehicles of stories. ELIZA showed the world that a simple computer script could evoke not just one story, but be a vehicle for as many stories as there were people who interacted with her. She opened the door to software as a tool not just for business or science, but also for emotional interactions. For the foundational work of using software to create empathy, connections, and hold a mirror to each of our personal narratives, ELIZA wins a Peabody.
Joseph Weizenbaum MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory
It’s said that the inventor of the web’s original vision was for it to be “a collaborative medium, a place where we can all meet and read and write”—a single central vision. In 2000 the web was transitioning from sites originally built with static HTML pages, simple embedded styles, to interactive website features and the birth of the comment section, which marked a major point of evolution in the world of web development.
Enter Phil Yu. Like many people of color coming up in the 1980s and ‘90s, he had grown accustomed to not seeing himself in mass media. But unlike many, Yu also got angry, and then he found a way to channel it. Angry Asian Man was a blog built on html. The name is an ironic play on the model minority trope and asks: Why aren’t Asians allowed or expected to be angry? The greeting page features an action figure of Quick Kick, the bare-chested character in from G.I. Joe, who is angry as well.
The blog began as a way for Yu to express himself and work through how he felt about not seeing his community reflected in media, but found further purpose after successfully helping to mobilize against a clothing company that had released T-shirts featuring racist caricatures of Asian people. This changed the blog’s course and direction from criticism to also include calls to action, providing a look, via an Asian American lens, at everything from pop culture to politics to music to academia. As it became a destination for others seeking community, the blog again transformed into a type of short form conversation.
The speed in which today’s audience can call out media for stereotypical representations and/or erasure was built off of the work that Yu has been doing for the last 20 years. It doesn’t matter that the format was a blog—it’s about the content of that blog. Before social media was widespread, he helped to create the playbook for being in digital spaces. His blog has connected Asian Americans across the internet, so the stories themselves became interactive as readers formed communities, engaged, and took action.
He spoke up when others did not. He built community and allowed space for that community to be creative and innovative, to see themselves as creators and valued/respected audience members. He amplified the work of organizations covering Asian American issues so that they could find broader coalitions. With the message as important as the delivery and consumption medium, Phil continues to shine a light on Asian American issues beyond his blog and into podcasts and publishing. Mainstream media is listening now.
For upholding the original vision of what the web could be, encouraging and inspiring the next generation of creators and community, for being unapologetic about centering the Asian American experience and for staying angry, Phil Yu is awarded a Peabody.
Phil Yu is a writer, speaker and host best known as the creator of Angry Asian Man, one of the most widely read and longest-running independent websites covering news, culture and perspectives from the Asian American community. The Washington Post calls Angry Asian Man “a daily must-read for the media-savvy, socially conscious, pop-cultured Asian American.” Mixing humor with criticism, Phil’s commentary has been featured and quoted in the New York Times, National Public Radio, CNN, MSNBC, Wall Street Journal, BuzzFeed, Entertainment Weekly and more.
Phil is co-author of the forthcoming book RISE: A Pop History of Asian American from the Nineties to Now, with Jeff Yang and Philip Wang, to be published in March 2022 from Harper.
Phil is co-host of the podcast They Call Us Bruce, “an unfilitered conversation on what’s happening in Asian America”; host/producer of All The Asians On Star Trek, the podcast in which he interviews all the Asians on Star Trek; and founding host/executive producer of the Korean Drama Podcast, “the K-Drama rewatch podcast by (and for) people who don’t watch Korean dramas.”
Phil was named to the A100, an annual list honoring the most influential AAPIs in culture, and The FD200, a list of 200 people who best embody the spirit and work of Frederick Douglass. He was also a recipient of the 2017 Digital Pioneer Award from the San Diego Asian Film Festival, 2017 “Rock the Boat” Award from the Korean American Coalition, 2016 Voice Award from the V3 Digital Media Conference, 2016 Justice in Action Award from the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, 2012 Salute to Champions Award from the Japanese American Citizens League, 2011 Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Award for Excellence in New Media from the California Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus, 2011 Public Image Award from Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and 2011 Excellence in Media Award from OCA-Greater Los Angeles.
Phil appears in the Netflix documentary short The Claudia Kishi Club and the feature documentary Linsanity, and is executive producer of the action-comedy feature Awesome Asian Bad Guys. He worked previously at the Center for Asian American Media in San Francisco, as a Content Producer for Yahoo! Movies, and currently serves on the board of Visual Communications, which presents the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.
Phil graduated with a B.S. in Radio/TV/Film from Northwestern University, and earned his M.A. in Critical Studies as a Provost Fellow from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. He is currently based in Los Angeles.
Nonny de la Peña has been at the forefront of emerging media throughout her career, earning accolades like “Godmother of VR.” Her insatiable curiosity and keen desire to provide innovative experiences to audiences in search of truth brought new techniques and technology to storytelling that are grounded in journalistic integrity.
She was an important contributor during a historic period of discovery in beyond-broadcast digital media. Innovators like her were critical to finding indigenous storytelling forms on the mobile computing devices and social platforms that started to dominate our lives. Her example catalyzed a generation of storytellers and innovators to invest their genius towards meaning-making in emerging media forms.
Her contributions to immersive journalism are numerous, with rippling effects. De la Peña brought important insights to the critiques that VR is too immersive for certain content by making compelling arguments for VR journalism, offering eye-opening examples, and providing best practices for designing embodied experiences of challenging events. Collaborations with leading news organizations set standards in transparency, accuracy, and sourcing for new media.
Her contributions to technology innovation are profound. Significant areas of her innovation include room-scale 5DoF immersion; data visualization; flat game-engine storytelling; techniques to bring flat media documentation into immersive space, stimulating technologists to make VR headsets mobile, higher quality, and less expensive; and a platform that democratizes the immersive power of volumetric VR.
Finally, her contributions to social and environmental justice are formidable. Her pieces help audiences become intimately aware of the nuances of news issues and events spanning critical subjects like abortion, LGBTQ+ youth, police brutality, conflict zones, solitary confinement, melting ice caps, the Black Lives Matter movement, and more. However, one of her most significant contributions was furthering equity and equality in the tech industry by shattering stereotypes and dismantling narratives that worked to validate its lack of diversity.
Nonny de la Peña, Ph.D. is the founder of Emblematic Group where she uses cutting-edge technologies to tell stories — both fictional and news-based — that create intense, empathic engagement. She recently joined Arizona State University as the founding director of the new Narrative and Emerging Media center located in downtown Los Angeles where she leads a best-in-class research and graduate program with a focus on new narratives developed using emerging media technologies including virtual, mixed and augmented reality, virtual production and spatial content in the areas of arts, culture and nonfiction. A Yale Poynter Media Fellow and a former correspondent for Newsweek, de la Peña is widely credited with pioneering the genre of immersive journalism. She is a WSJ Technology Innovator of the Year, one of CNET’s 20 Most Influential Latinos in Tech, a Wired Magazine #MakeTechHuman Agent of Change and Fast Company named her “One of the People Who Made the World More Creative.” Under her leadership, Emblematic has built a critically acclaimed body of work using a range of technologies from VR, AR, and XR to 360 video, AI and machine learning. Emblematic’s diverse roster of world class clients includes Cartier, Google, Lenovo, Italian fashion brand GCDS, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the World Economic Forum. Emblematic’s WebXR platform REACH.Love, a no-code toolset that creates scalable distribution in the medium, democratizes content authorship and empowers new voices to share their stories.
At ASU, de la Peña oversees a new master’s degree and a research, events and policy space focused on creative practice and critical understanding of immersive experience across XR with the goal of shifting and diversifying the demographics of those working in the technology landscape. As a journalist and filmmaker, de la Peña has more than 20 years of award-winning experience, writing for publications such as Time Magazine, New York and LA Times, and working in feature documentary and film production. Her paper in the MIT journal Presence, “Immersive Journalism: Immersive Virtual Reality for the First-Person Experience of the News,” is the second most downloaded article in the journal’s history, and her TED talk, which describes the use of cutting-edge technologies for putting viewers on scene at real news events, has garnered more than 1,300,000 views.