60-Second Science

Software For Understanding Jokes

Computer scientists have developed a program that gets jokes, part of the effort to improve communications between people and computers. Steve Mirsky reports.

Hey, did you hear the one about the two researchers who tried to figure out how to get robots to understand jokes?  See, it’s funny because it’s true.  The University of Cincinnati computer scientists showed off their new software program that’s designed to recognize jokes at the meeting of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence.  Which took place in Canada.  Which is kinda funny.

The work is related to the field of sociable computing, which tries to make communication between people and computers more natural.  The researchers admit that their humor program still needs a lot of work.  The only jokes it currently can get depend on simple wordplay.  For example, here’s a joke that really got a rise out of their test computer.  A mother says to her son, “Johnny, you’ve been working in the garden a lot this summer.”  To which the boy replies, “I know.  My teacher told me to weed a lot.”  Ahem.  Clearly, like the garden, the program still has lot of bugs.  But some day you might have a helper robot that says, “Boy am I hungry, I haven’t had a gigabyte all day.”

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