Software still searching for the punchline

by Paul Jay, CBCNews.ca

Stop us if you've heard this one before, but two University of Cincinnati professors say they have created a prototype of software that can understand basic jokes.

According to the New Scientist, the University's Julia Taylor and Lawrence Mazlack built a program or "bot" able to recognize simple puns by first giving it a database of words along with examples of how those words can be related to each other to create different meanings. As the New Scientist writes:

When presented with a new passage, the program uses that knowledge to work out how those new words relate to each other and what they likely mean. When it finds a word that doesn't seem to fit with its surroundings, it searches a digital pronunciation guide for similar-sounding words. If any of those words fits in better with the rest of the sentence, it flags the passage as a joke. The result is a bot that "gets" jokes that turn on a simple pun.

The bot, presented last week at the American Association for Artificial Intelligence conference in Vancouver.

The sample joke New Scientist provides, however, is something of a head scratcher. In it, a mother says to her boy: "My, you've been working in the garden a lot this summer," to which the boy responds, "I have to, because teacher told me to work a lot.'' The computer groks over this as a pun on working the soil and doing schoolwork, which seems like the kind of thing only Data from Star Trek would find funny.

What I'm waiting for is when the second-generation of this program becomes merged with ELIZA, the 1968 computer program designed to simulate psychoanalysis. And hopefully, it will be able to share its wonky sense of humour online like Kevin's Fox's AOLIZA did seven years ago when it was set loose on AOL Instant Messenger. Now that would be funny.