Computer comedian is no joke

Have you heard the one about the computer that had a sense of humour? This question has never had a real-world punch line – until now.

According to news reports, U.S.-based experts in artificial intelligence have created software that can understand simple jokes. Before this breakthrough, efforts to help high-tech items, such as robots and interactive software, lighten up have failed badly, mainly because human humour is subjective and depends largely on context. And sometimes, alcohol.

Apparently, however, a team at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio has devised prototype joke-detection software.

When faced with a joke, the program matches words from a simple children’s dictionary with examples of puns and other plays on the same word. If it fails to find a word that fits its context, it searches through a digital pronunciation guide for similar-sounding words. And if any of those words are a better fit for the rest of the sentence, the passage is flagged “ha ha” — as a joke.

The goal of the project is to help humanize the robots of the future that could act as human companions or helpers. Or even as stand-ins for Howie Mandel.

According to reports, here’s an example of what amuses the joke-bot:

Mother to boy: “My, you’ve been working in the garden a lot this summer.”Boy: “I have to, because teacher told me to work a lot.”

Get it? A “lot” of work…working in a garden “lot”…no one said the program has to understand good jokes.

Canadian computer checkers

Moving from chortles to checkers, the ancient board game has apparently been “solved” by a Canadian-made computer program.

News reports revealed recently that a Calgarian team has created a program – dubbed Chinook — that can win or draw any game against any player. It took an average of 50 computers nearly two decades to sift through the 500 billion billion possible checkers positions. That is a lot of jumping, kinging and stacking.

Prior to this recent breakthrough, Chinook had proven itself to be a superb player. It won the World Checkers Championship in 1994 – but it was not perfect and occasionally lost. Score one for homo sapiens!

Since that time, the strategy to attain checkers perfection was to create a database that recorded every single possible move in any given situation. The researchers are now hoping to move on to even bigger problems, rumoured to involve “Hungry Hungry Hippos” and “Plinko” from The Price is Right.

A perfect chess program will take quite a bit more time: It has somewhere in the range of a billion billion billion billion billion possible positions. The computer’s best bet: Cheat when the human opponent falls asleep.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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