Think you're punny? Computer that can tell how good a joke is

My PC predicted you’d laugh (Image: Dan Kitwood/Getty)

My battery had an alkaline problem, so it went to AA meetings. Hilarious, eh? Don’t blame me, a computer model predicted that you would find this pun amusing. Its makers hope to use it to give robots a sense of humour.

We use humour every day, whether to ease tensions, cheer people up or forge romantic relationships.

“A big part of language is making other people laugh,” says Justine Kao, a cognitive psychologist at Stanford University in California.

But computers have always been terrible at understanding humour. The ability to comprehend or tell a joke relies on a detailed knowledge of language, culture, stereotypes and personal experiences – something computers do not have. Another issue is that there aren’t very clear definitions of what makes a joke funny, says Kao.

So she and her colleagues decided to begin with a particularly clear-cut type of humour: the pun. “We started out using our intuition,” she says.

Kao’s team believes that there are two key ingredients to a good pun. Firstly, to be a pun, a sentence must have a degree of ambiguity – you should be able to draw multiple meanings from it.

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