August 01, 2007

The Pun-Bots are Coming!

From New Scientist:

Robots with a sense of humor

...Julia Taylor and Lawrence Mazlack of the University of Cincinnati in Ohio have built a computer program or “bot” that is able to get a specific type of joke - one whose crux is a simple pun. They say this budding cyber wit could lend a sense of humour to physical robots acting as human companions or helpers, which will need to be able to spot jokes if they are to be accepted and not just annoy people. The bot is also teasing apart why some people laugh at a joke, such as the one above, when most just groan.

To teach the program to spot jokes, the researchers first gave it a database of words, extracted from a children’s dictionary to keep things simple, and then supplied examples of how words can be related to one another in different ways to create different meanings. 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...
Someday, robots will play practical jokes on us... like taking over the world and turning all humanity into slaves in the pickle mines of Algol 5. Mark my words.

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