"Are Computers Approaching Human-Level Creativity?"

Seminar #4 of 5: Puns and Humor -- 21-Nov-1997

Sponsored by Center for Computer-Assisted Research in the Humanities, Stanford

Organizer/moderator: Douglas Hofstadter (Prof of Cognitive Science, Indiana University)


Hofstadter started out by claiming he could show us humor in the "microworld of short letter sequences". There was initially much skepticism (in the audience of many hundreds).

To demonstrate "smart-aleciness in microworlds," using an overhead, he asked:

If "abc" becomes "abd" ... then "ijk" becomes what?

The "straight" answer is "ijl".

The slightly smart-alec answer is "ijd".

The very smart-alec answer is "abd".

(My friend Roger, sitting nearby, takes pride in coming up with the "very smart alec" answer as his first reaction.)

Next...if "abc" still becomes "abd" ... then "xyz" becomes what?

xya ?

xyd ?

wyz ?

dyz ?

dba ? (I never figured out this last one)

Now, most likely you AREN'T LAUGHING right now. But believe it or not, the majority of the auditorium audience _was_. Later, I learned that the overflow crowd was watching, live, by closed-circuit TV from another room, and that *NONE* of them laughed.

Why was the main crowd more amused? Something about being in the same room with Hofstadter? Or, more likely, being in the same room with *Steve Martin*? (Maybe people relegated to the overflow room have a bad attitude and just sat there fuming. Or maybe people with a sense of humor all tend to arrive much earlier.)

Examples of "dizziness in real-world humor" (understand & misunderstand at the same time):

Ronnie: What should we do with this butter surplus?

Nancy: Distribute it to the poor, so they can dip their lobster tails in it.

Reversals and Frame Blends in real-world humor:

"We don't swim in your toilet, so please don't pee in our pool."

KIM BINSTED wrote JAPE, Joke Analysis & Production Engine (seems misnamed, since it does not analyze jokes)

Demo of JAPE & papers, etc: http://www.dai.ed.ac.uk/students/kimb/demo/

It generates punning riddles, from a linguistic model of puns, including a collection of high-level pun schemata, and a non-humor-specific lexicon w/ semantic, syntactic, phonological, and psycholinguistic information.

JAPE-generated puns:

When she fed JAPE output to 120 children, the kinds classified 60% of the JAPE output as "jokes", 80% of the human-generated jokes as jokes, and 20% of non-jokes as jokes. (Exmaples of non-jokes that kids called jokes: "What do you get when you cross a horse with a donkey? A mule." -- "What do you get when you cross a banana with a phone booth? A car.") After correcting for the kids' vocabulary level, there was no significant difference between the number of JAPE jokes & human jokes the kids classified as jokes.

One kid thought the -only- funny joke was "What do you get when you cross a sofa and a bed? A sofa-bed!"

Kim classified these as examples of JAPE "failures":

An early (buggy) JAPE produced:

What do you get when you cross a person and a thing? A person thing.

(Steve Martin chimes in: "I think -many- of us have -dated- those people.")

Marvin Minsky Miscellany

"www" is prounounced "triple u"

Why do people like music? Why do they like jokes? Very little is written about what people spend most of their time doing. Some good stuff is Arthur Kessler, The Act of Creation, and Journal of Computational Humor. And Jokes and the Logic of the Cognitive Unconscious (Minsky).

Frank Lloyd-Wright quote: "An expert is someone who doesn't have to think. He knows."

At some point Minsky digresses into "In four dimensions, there are NO KNOTS" and then kinds of trails off. Steve Martin chimes in with, "That's GOOD TO KNOW." Big laugh.

Quotable Minsky quote for the evening: "Now, where was I?" Good question. (In a surprising show of good taste, I will omit Minsky's "Polish Pope" joke.)

Minsky only watches 3 TV shows: Simpsons, Star Trek, and Xena. For whatever that's worth.

"The brain is mainly for the purpose of keeping your eyes out of trouble...keeping stuff from sticking into them."

Rule-based systems grow until about the 500-rule level, and then every new rule you add makes something worse.

Regarding the assertion that "It's hard to find humor that is not bad, cruel, scatological, prohibited, or sexual." Minsky says that's nonsense (but I have no supporting details in my notes).

"Why does the Canadian cross the road?" "To get to the middle."

The idea that "emotions are not thinking" is why there are no good theories of emotion.

Steve Martin

Steve got involved with Hoftstadter by reading Hofstadter's book _Metamagical Themas_, and the American Library Association made a 4' x 2.5' poster captioned "READ", showing Steve Martin holding the book.

Steve wanted to talk from his chair instead of walking around stage, so he asked Hofstadter, "I'll just sit, OK?" Hofstadter: "OK. And talk?" Steve: "And talk." (moderate laughs)

Steve observed that in clubs, he often does the -same show-, and sometimes the audience doesn't think it's funny. Conclusion: The audience must be Bad sometimes.

What if I never give them a place to laugh? Then they'll find it themselves.

[General Q&A]

(Hofstadter) "A mistress is half-way between a mister and a mattress."

(KimB) One of the templates is "What do you get when you cross a Blank with a Blank?"
(Steve Martin, answering the question): "A Blank?" (well-timed pause) "A blanket?"

(Hofstadter, picking one questioner out of 20 raised hands): "You, with the hand up."

(Minsky): "What do you get when you cross IBM with LSD? A business trip."

(KimB): They asked a group of people, "Do you like jokes?" 1/3 of the adults said No, but they could still recognize the jokes even though they didn't like them.

(Martin): The bigger the joke, the smaller the laugh. Mentioned the scene in The Jerk where they ripped a church in half, for a fairly small laugh.

(audience member to Steve Martin): "Steve, .... Can I call you Steve?"
(Steve): "Sure...can I call _you_ Steve?"

(later, Hofstadter talking to Martin)

(Steve): "Oh, are you talking to me? I thought you were still talking to him!" (points to "Steve" in the audience)

[ Page last revised 20-Jul-2001. ]

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