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Meet the Emacs Doctor

Dec 20, 2011 - Tags:

In my last article on the subject of artificial intelligence (or AI, if you prefer), I introduced you to Eliza, a computerized psychiatrist. Eliza may be simple, but she is patient and she's happy to let you talk.

Speaking of therapy, and at the risk of opening up old wounds and old battles, specifically the "vi vs emacs" conflict (the answer is vi, or vim), let's consider another form of AI therapy.

The original Eliza program was written using an early version of Lisp. It is not surprising then that one of the most famous examples of Lisp development included with your Linux system, the Emacs editor, should pay homage to the good doctor. When talking about Emacs, it becomes almost difficult to classify it as strictly an editor. The brainchild of Richard M. Stallman (founder of the Free Software Foundation), GNU Emacs is more than just a nice, powerful, if somewhat complex, editor. It's a mail reader, news reader, web browser, program development environment, Lisp interpreter and psychotherapist. No, really! I kid you not.

Try this. Start Emacs by typing emacs. You do not have to specify a filename for this. Now, press Esc-X, then type doctor and press Enter. The doctor is in. More so, the doctor lives! Note my conversation with the Emacs doctor in Figure 1.

Figure 1: The Emacs doctor IS in!

As much fun as the emacs doctor might be, you'll soon discover that it's not much different from our friend, Eliza. The advantage here is that, the doctor is always in, assuming, of course, that you have emacs installed. So next time you find yourself contemplating the meaning of life while you are in the middle of some stubborn Python code, save your work and just call up the doctor. It's free software so you can keep the 5 cents.

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