Artificial Intelligence is a Joke

I'm in Australia watching two Queen Manta Rays have sex. (Don't worry, Republican Party, they were just having sex not getting married.)

I'm with my wife and another couple. It's quite a scene; sunset at the Great Barrier Reef, these two magnificent and -- up till a few moments ago, graceful -- creatures going at it in thunderclaps of obscene splashing while we watch from a dock, respectfully video-ing, Facebooking, Instagramming and, in some cases, memorizing their every move.

Then, in a fit of inspiration, the comedy writer among us (Me) says: "Hey! It's fifty shades of ray!"

This may or may not have been a quip for the ages but it got one of our number (not Me) to thinking, and a few days later he told me those thoughts.

Glenn Entis is a former computer programmer and video game executive and is interested in Artificial Intelligence. He'd been puzzling ever since my sex-joke about its computational implications. Specifically, could a computer ever make that joke?

Many researchers say that for AI to reach its full potential, humans must be made to feel comfortable interacting with machines. There are various methods for achieving this; for example, giving a robot breasts is one way to make men happy. (Giving anything breasts is another.)

Vocalization is also helpful. But straightforward verbal answers to straightforward verbal questions won't make us picky people comfy. Many scientists believe the missing digital link is a sense of humor. Hence Siri, who has been endowed by her creators with certain alien rights, including the right to quip. ("Siri, is there a God?" "Humans have spiritualism. I have siliconism." Not a knee-slapper but it indicates she's willing to play.)

Still, Siri's answers are pre-programmed. Could a computer ever understand human humor and generate its own? As with anything to do with science, the answer is complex and nuanced, but it can be summarized thusly:


Glenn considered the multitude of instant calculations which went into that joke: the connection between splashily violent ray sex and human S/M; the current pop-culture lodestar for S/M references; the rhyme between ray and Grey; the intended listeners' intellects, knowledge of pop culture and appreciation for puns; the volume required to communicate the joke: loud enough to supersede the thrashing rays but low enough to avoid attracting onlookers who might pummel the punner.

All this was achieved in what mathematicians call a trice. Could a computer do it? Methinks not. Among other things, how would a computer correlate the joke's qualities with my companions' humor-preferences? Sure, my friends could have filled out personality-analysis forms but we had dinner plans.

Bottom-line: Machines will never replace Amy Schumer, unless it's the sex robot Jane Fonda used in "Barbarella", but that one's broken. So Humanity can take comfort in one indisputable fact about the inevitable robot apocalypse: Computers may destroy us but people will always have the last laugh.