Codifying humanity: Can humor be reduced to an algorithm? - Deepstash

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Robots Are What We Make Them

Robots don’t have personalities, ideas, thoughts, or desires. Any human-like qualities we could attribute to a machine or its output are merely reflections of ourselves or its programmers.

That doesn’t sit well with the mainstream perceptions of AI. Thousands of articles promise a near-future where human creators are either displaced or forced to work in tandem with machines.


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The Perception Of AI

Most of what AI does is prestidigitation. That’s because there’s only a handful of things a typical deep learning system can actually do. Much like a real-world magician, developers create incredible programs out of some fairly basic algorithmic foundations.

The only difference between a disappearing coin trick and what David Copperfield does is scale. There is no more or less “real magic” involved in the former’s illusions and the latter’s.


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Making AI Funny

A few years back, a former Microsoft intern named Nabil Hossain and a pair of Microsoft AI researchers developed a machine learning system to generate humorous headlines from existing news articles.

The big idea was that the AI would make microedits by changing a single word in a serious headline to make it a funny one. 


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The Machine Workings Of Humor

The AI picks a noun or verb from a headline and replaces it with a word that can be objectively quantified as humorous.

So here’s the simple answer to the question of whether AI can be funny or not: If you get to define what is and isn’t funny, sure. AI can be just as funny as you decide it is or isn’t.


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Funny is a Perception

Jokes can be reduced to formulas. Just about anything can be reduced to a formula, but “funny” isn’t a thing. It’s a perception. Just like you can’t hand me an ounce of satisfaction or purchase a mile’s worth of courage, you can’t quantitatively produce funniness in a lab.


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The Bottomline

AI can’t be funny. Funny as interpreted by the recipient of a joke is subjective. And funny as an intended construct requires intent.

Just like fashion, being funny is as complex as the people you surround yourself with. What a group of AI devs might find funny or fashionable will likely differ from the tastes at Fashion Week in a Comedy Central writer’s room. And both the individual and public perception of what’s humorous is constantly changing and evolving. 


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