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Joke-Spotting Computer

August 27, 2007

Computers finally acquire a funny bone.


Making humor compute. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Creating artificial intelligence is hard enough, but designing an artificial sense of humor is tougher still. Just ask University of Cincinnati computer engineers Julia Taylor and Lawrence Mazlack. They’re developing a software program that can recognize simple knock-knock jokes and one-word puns. Taylor says the software checks for puns whenever a sentence doesn’t make literal sense.

JULIA TAYLOR (University of Cincinnati):
It looks for the words that don’t fit. And it finds words that sound similar, and if they fit, we call it a joke.

To do that, the software draws on a vast database that links words to their sounds, meanings, and possible contexts. As with a human, the more the program knows, the more jokes it can understand. Taylor says the ultimate goal is to make talking with computers more like talking with people. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.