Why Did the Computer Cross the Road?

Dad jokes vs. computer-created puns? Nanyun Peng is helping AI win the comedy arms race.

Nanyun Peng

Why did the robot go to the doctor? Because it had a virus! Let’s be honest, everyone loves a groan-worthy pun. But while Alexa and Siri can tell jokes, ask them to come up with an original gag and you’ll be met with radio silence.

Creative language, especially humor, remains one of the hardest areas for artificial intelligence to grasp. One reason is that computers are trained to look for patterns, while comedy relies on context and surprise.

Enter our intrepid natural language expert, Nanyun Peng, a research lead at the USC Viterbi Information Sciences Institute and computer science research assistant professor. With colleagues from Stanford University, Peng is trying to give AI some creative wit, designing a pun generator based on insights from humor theory.

Their research was presented at the 2019 Annual Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics.

So, take a break and see if you can tell which of these kneeslappers were created by Peng’s machine and which came straight from the dad joke handbook.

Bottom line: Robots may be getting smarter, but when it comes to humor, their skills are still a little rusty. (You can thank Dad for that one.)

Answers: Computer: 1, 4, 6, 7, 10 | Human: 2, 3, 5, 8, 9