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Can a Chatbot Tell Jokes. Yes, If They Are Stale

As chatbots sort through the vast mass of online information for appropriate responses to questions, jokes were bound to come up

Corinne Purtill reported a year ago at Time Magazine on Jon the Robot, a chatbot that was programmed to learn to tell stand-up comedy jokes:

An experiment billed as a comedy act, Jon is the brainchild of Naomi Fitter, an assistant professor in the School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering at Oregon State University. The tiny android performs when a handler (who must also hold the mic) presses a button, then tells the same jokes in the same order, like a grizzled veteran comic at a down-market Vegas casino.

Corinne Purtill, “Artificial Intelligence Can Now Craft Original Jokes—And That’s No Laughing Matter” at Time 2030 (January 4, 2022)

But the robot’s act is more human than it might first appear. Jon is learning how to respond to its audience—it can now vary the timing of its delivery based on the length of the audience’s laughter, and append different responses to jokes based on the level of noise in the room. It can deliver one line if a joke gets a roar of laughter (“Please tell the booking agents how funny that joke was”) and another if there are crickets (“Sorry about that. I think I got caught in a loop. Please tell the booking agents that you like me … that you like me … that you like me”).

Corinne Purtill, “Artificial Intelligence Can Now Craft Original Jokes—And That’s No Laughing Matter” at Time 2030 (January 4, 2022)

Some researchers, Purtill tells us, see comedy as a “holy grail” of chatbot achievement. Others think that it is “primarily a people thing.” Clearly, the decisions are made based on what a given group of humans think it funny at as given moment in time.

At the New English Review, Ken Francis offers some thoughts:

Now imagine a robocop pulling someone up for speeding down the highway. In an endearing humorous way, the driver says to the robocop: “Ah, come on officer, I wasn’t going that fast. I could kill you for pulling me over.”

Such a response could be fatal for the driver if the robocop failed to understand the metaphor, took the statement literally and acted in self-defence. Think I’m joking? (“San Francisco supervisors vote to allow police to deploy robots that kill”: Headline in The Los Angeles Times, Nov 30, 2022.)

Ken Francis, “When AI is No Laughing Matter” at New English Review (January 2023)

Maybe the robocop wasn’t programmed for dealing with a smartmouth… in which case, the consequences could make the headlines.

In any event, the chatbot relies on jokes that have already been told many times — that’s how a chatbot works. If you haven’t already heard them all, it’s maybe fun. And it may work better in an era when only the bravest comedians withstand Woke Cancel Culture. You can applaud the bot moderately and politely, provided you are sure that the point of the joke is Correct.

Not that you can ever be sure…

You may also wish to read: Students depend on ChatGPT for final exams. The new bot will only get better from here, but it won’t help students become better thinkers. Students are starting to use ChatGPT for essays and multiple-choice exams, but a rhetoric professor calls the bot’s writing “soulless and forgettable.” (Peter Biles)


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Can a Chatbot Tell Jokes. Yes, If They Are Stale