A LOLCats picture of a cat sitting on an open laptop computer. The caption reads "Admincat limits access."
In the future, Kristian Hammond's computer may generate its own LOLCats. (Photo Credit: CC BY/zebedee zebedee/Flickr)

According to Wikipedia, computer scientist John McCarthy defined artificial intelligence way back in 1956 as “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines.” These intelligent machines would, in theory, mimic how human beings think and be put to use in creative problem-solving endeavors. Over half a century after McCarthy originally coined the term artificial intelligence, science is still working on it. However, thanks to your taxpayer dollars – a $712,883 grant, to be exact – one Northwestern University researcher is making strides in the niche of artificial intelligence known affectionately as machine-generated humor. He’s creating joke-telling software, reports the Chicago Sun-Times.

The computer was a joke-teller

According to the Sun-Times, Northwestern computer professor Kristian Hammond and his team of graduate students are working to create super search programs that can create “structured queries that lead to interesting, factual juxtapositions of ideas that lead to a humorous outcome … sometimes,” he said. Funding for this work comes from federal stimulus dollars, so it is taxpayer funded. Arizona Sen. John McCain even put the machine-generated humor project on his list of the “100 Most Wasteful Stimulus Projects.” Hammond’s project clocks in at number 36 on the list.

It takes intelligence to create good humor

The mental agility required to twist the meanings of words and make quick, insightful associations between disparate sources is considerable, yet comedians seem to do it on the fly. The same type of associative intelligence will eventually replace standard search engines, Hammond theorizes. Thus, the type of software needed to generate comedy would also be able to independently find information based on what a user is doing, then generate original ideas and provide it to the user without having to be instructed to do so.

It’s not about the jokes

Hammond’s project, called “Computational Creativity: Building a Model of Machine-Generated Humor,” is actually a very serious means of enabling computers to solve real human problems. While he may still have a long way to go, it is likely that a joke-telling computer may not be far off. However, as Hammond stressed when he was interviewed by the Sun-Times, “I’m sorry to say it: This is hard-core computer engineering… I’m not really that funny of a guy.”

That’s fine. There’s enough humor in Congress – with all its list-making – to go around.

Sources

Chicago Sun-Times http://www.suntimes.com/technology/2665564,CST-NWS-nojoke02.article
Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artificial_intelligence

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