Health & Fitness

Take my computer . . . please

EntertainmentGamingSoftware IndustryUniversity of CincinnatiEducationMilton Berle

Mother to boy: "Johnny, you've been working in the garden a lot this summer."

Boy: "I know. My teacher told me to weed a lot."

That's one of the favorite knee-slappers of a new software program, or "bot," that recognizes jokes. Think of it as the Milton Berle of bots.

University of Cincinnati researchers Julia Taylor and Larry Mazlack programmed the bot with child's-level English and then gave it examples of words that can have different meanings, such as in puns.

The bot checks phrases for logical consistency -- and then, if the phrase doesn't make sense, looks for words similar in sound to the words in the message. If it finds that the phrase engages in wordplay, it flags the message as a joke.

"The 'robot' is just a software program that needs a lot of work," Taylor says in a news release. "The idea is to be able to recognize jokes that are based on phonological similarity of words."

In the case of the "Johnny -- weed a lot" joke, "Notice that the boy says the teacher told him to weed," Taylor says. "Since 'weed' sounds similar to 'read,' the program can find this wordplay."

The bot may be a budding comedian, but the researchers are all business.

"A critical aspect in achieving sociable computing is being able to formally communicate in a human language with computers," Mazlack says. "Handling humor is critical to being able to conduct an informal dialogue with a computer."

Even the bot wouldn't find that particularly amusing.

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Janet Cromley

For more on the bot go to: www.uc.edu/news/NR.asp?id=6139

For computer-generated bad jokes, go to: thesurrealist.co.uk/joke.

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