Is your computer funnier than my computer?
It was the summer of 1983 when my boss (aka my dad) called me into his office during my summer job at his advertising agency. “Stop laughing at the Account Executive’s ad copy,” he admonished, barely stifling his smile. I was typing up Allen’s copy for an ad about ergonomic office furniture. “He sounded like he was going to make out with his desk!” I said as clear justification for my snickering.
Forty years ago, the idea (or God forbid value) of having a personal relationship with office equipment seemed silly. Today? Computer engineer and aspiring comedian Vinith Misra says that in analyzing data sets (aka the essence of Artificial Intelligence) he discovers ways to “make our often frustrating relationship with machines funnier and friendlier.”
Misra’s TED Talk (as reported on the NPR TED Radio Hour) and my subsequent discovery of computational humor won’t change how I’m running my business today or next week. But it’s interesting. On the positive side, seeing further applications for AI, which helps to better understand how it already is and will continue to permeate our businesses and lives. And on the cautionary side (given the sample AI-generated joke) how there’s a need for planning and diligence to avoid bias from those creating and testing the algorithms.
Misra started with the question, “Can a computer crack a joke? Can it even have a sense of humor?” (You can watch his 11-minute TED Talk here.) Misra shares insights from the field of Computational Humor (yes…you can study this at University). Misra’s premise is that we spend so much time with our tech equipment—we already have a relationship with it—it might as well be good. But on the purpose side, he sees where tools from computational humor can bring people closer together—especially for people who might be shy or socially awkward. “It changes how we relate to our mechanical friends,” says Misra, which can make us a better friend in real life.
However, he does acknowledge that the jokes, while perhaps logical from a data perspective, are not always good. Take this one, for example,
“What do you get when you cross a frog with a street? A main toad.”
And, if you thought “Hey—I can generate a joke to use as an icebreaker for my next talk!” using The Joking Computer, you might want to think again. This platform/study is working on making computers funnier. The “build your own joke” page lets you choose what kind of joke you want. I chose “What’s the difference between…” and got this:
“What is the difference between a hot assistant and an arctic hand shovel?”
“One is a spicy aid, the other is an icy spade.”
Um… how do you send your computer to HR? Especially now that you are friends.