By Kathy Garges

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Rolling On The Floor Laughing

Human humor can take many different forms: one-liners, skits, puns, knock knock jokes, slapstick, double entendres. Computers and artificial intelligences are a dull and somber bunch in comparison. That could be the reason software programmers, since the early days, pre-programmed comedic responses to typical user input and a few surprise Easter eggs. Humans also invented various codes to signal emotion and humor when communicating with each other online, such as Rolling On The Floor Laughing (ROTFL), Laughing Out Loud (LOL) and emoticons. :)

Several years after android Data explored humor on television in Star Trek, artificial intelligence scientists finally started to search for ways to bring merriment to AI-human interactions. Last fall, the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) held the first symposium about "computational humor." Participants focused on preliminary issues, like how to define humor and how to test AI comedy programs for success. There are so many kinds of humor that researchers only have ventured a few steps, beginning with linguistic humor using existing natural language processing methods

Humans continue to be puzzled by the nature of humor. Freud noted the strong tie of comedy to the subconscious mind. AI pioneer Marvin Minsky published a short paper in 1980, theorizing that "[h]umor, like games, serves and exploits many different needs and mechanisms. It lacks sharp, natural boundaries...." He noted that laughter is an involuntary reaction that often takes over the entire body and completely alters a human's physical state. He suggested that laughter distracts from an existing cognitive state and focuses attention on some new thought. Recent brain research posits that humor is beneficial for healthy rational thought and may stimulate the higher executive brain functions.

What is funny also depends on culture. Due to the nature of the Japanese language, for example, there are many more puns based on pronunciation and alternate word meanings than in English. Many Japanese puns are related to numerology and superstition, or used as memory devices, and lack any hint of comedy.

Humor is also an important part of social interaction. Part of the drive for AI comedy programs is the desire to make interactions with AI assistants like Siri more comfortably humanlike.

Scientists submitted papers to the AAAI symposium in two practical areas, joke recognizers and joke generators. They're also starting to explore methods for distinguishing between intentional and unintentional humor, and successful and unsuccessful humor.

Given the complexity of humor, the first successful AI comedian is likely to fill the classic comedy role of the straight man. So far, AI comedy programs frequently fall into the categories of dry humor or unsuccessful humor. Computer scientists in Scotland created Standup (meaning "System to Augment Non-Speakers' Dialogue Using Puns") to help children with language disabilities by generating punning riddles. Students at the University of Washington created a "That's what she said" program to recognize the double entendres popular on the television show The Office.

Since it could be a while before Siri will further endear herself to you by laughing at all your jokes, I've included links below to videos of two perennial favorites that are always guaranteed to have me LOL.

Sources and additional information:

Papers from the 2012 AAAI Fall Symposium Artificial Intelligence of Humor,

Minsky, M. (1980). Jokes and the logic of the cognitive unconscious. A.I. memo 603, 1-25,

Alex Stone, "A Motherboard Walks Into a Bar," New York Times Sunday Review, January 4, 2013,

"Students created an artificial intelligence program to recognize "that's what she said" jokes," OMG Facts, July 22, 2012

Abbott & Costello, "Who's On First?" (1953),

Ball and Vance, "Lucy and Ethel Wrap Chocolates!"

Kathy Garges is a member of MLMUG.

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©2013 by Kathy Garges & MLMUG
Posted 07/05/13
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