Funny bone, err computer

I AM VERY proud of my gold pocket watch. My grandfather, on his deathbed, sold me this watch,” was one of stand up comedien Woody Allen’s famous line that many will recall. This consummate actor-director could stand and deliver without batting an eyelid.

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Published: Fri 16 Aug 2013, 11:51 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 10:37 AM

But what if the same lines had come out of a computer? Would you have been tickled the same way? Would you still have been in splits? It looks like you would if the jokes by a ‘computerised comedien’ recently tested on volunteers is any indication. The computer jokes had volunteers laughing though not as heartily as man-made humour. Never mind if some of the jokes spewed by it were sexist!

Now that we are growing everything right down to a burger in a petri dish, we are not surprised that British scientists have gone and developed this computer which not only has a sense of humour but can come up with its own witty one-liners. It will even identify and laugh at your jokes!

The University of Edinburgh has created the computer which is programmed to process masses of information fed into it and come up with statements and comments that are funny by tracking down and putting together unusual words and phrases.

One of the scientists who is involved in the project, David Matthews, said recently that initial tests on volunteers resulted in their laughing at the jokes produced by the computer’s humour. But he also said that jokes have been based since time immemorial on cultural nuances and the differences between people, something the computer is not yet able to figure out.

“Computers have an advantage over people in that they can process masses of information, so we fed computers a wealth of material from which they extracted creative and unusual word combinations to fit our joke template,” he told The Telegraph.

“The holy grail for machine-generated comedy would be to include cultural references, but these are very hard to capture,” he said recently.

We are sure the team will come up with a way to fix that too and then we can have laughs in a box much like canned laughter on telly.

But it’s not just British boffins who have come up with a ‘stand up comedien computer’. The Americans too are working hard at it and two of them seem to have cracked it. Julia Taylor and Dr Lawrence Mazlack at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio, whose work is highlighted in the New Scientist magazine, “have programmed a computer to identify jokes based on puns involving different definitions of similar sounding words.” This one can identify and even laugh at your jokes. Carry on laughing. It is, afterall, the best medicine.

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