You’ve been hooked by the ‘black-hole’ picture. Of course you have..

Artists impression
…you can’t escape it.

That’s a terrible pun and I’m sure you’re groaning. In fact I hope you are.

To those who know me personally, they know that’s part of my sense of humour. And wordplay like this is the highest form of comedy that I partake in. It goes downhill and gets much darker from that point.

There is something cathartic for me about humour.

It’s a release of something, like a pressure valve. Making someone laugh has it’s own personal and social reward. Having spent /misspent many many hours being a bit of a ‘comedy geek’/fanboy, even helping occasionally in a comedy club, I must profess I’ve even thought about giving it a go at times.

Many years were spent in London getting to know stand-up comics and I’ve met and shared a pint or two with some ‘big names’.

I find the science and formula of all different levels of comedy absolutely fascinating… The creativity and effort that goes in to the works of genius that I admire, is astounding. But I am still none the wiser about how it really works.

Listen to just one of your favourite comedians discuss with Stuart Goldsmith on The Comedian’s Comedian and you’ll soon get a flavour of the “tears of a clown”. And the gigs, the characters, the long hours and disappointments. And occasionally the experience of success.

If you’re feeling less intelligent (or quite possibly, as intelligent) try Richard Herring’s RHLSTP. You won’t regret it, I promise – unless you’re easily offended and can’t deal with the juxtaposition of ‘clever’-stupid, ‘base’-nuanced humour. Or just idiocy in interviewing.

And you know what? If you are offended, that’s fine. You’ll live. And you might be offended by that statement. And you know what, that’s fine too. What’s funny is personal to me.

The psychology

There are a number of schools of thought, all of which are interesting and have something meaningful, but don’t matter in the slightest to me. Although they are a great way to break down and understand human nature and what we find funny, they make a nonsense of humour.

It all misses the point. By modelling something, you are already missing most of the point. By definition a model is an abstraction that’s removed from the essence of the real thing.

Nonsense of humour

I find the necessity to ‘model’ such a thing, one of the symptoms of the vastly all-consuming need to understand. And some things I think we should be leaving just to human experience.

BUT.. imagine the thought and ingenuity and challenge… and then the commercial and consumer driven business opportunities that would be created if a computer could make you laugh….


Can machines ever ‘get’ humour? I mean, the comedians will tell you there’s at least some science to it. But they’ll also reveal there’s a lot of creative art and a barrels of self-created luck.

But, I fear the answer sadly is yes.

Given the right variables, decent data and the construction of jokes and puns, they could easily build models upon models and layers upon layers of neural sophistication. I’m not joking.

At the moment there are faux versions and attempts that are in themselves a joke at the idea of what people find humourous. As an experiment, here is the very first thing that pops up on InspiroBot.

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It’s not creating humour per-se. It is funny though, it’s an infinite piss-take of the bullshit motivational memes that proliferate LinkedIn these days

Geeky Humor

My developer and technology friends are all sarcastic, witty, intelligent. Most of them anyway.

They love creating things, they love the challenge. In their professional lives and at home, they are busy developing algorithms to do crazy things that a few years ago we thought weren’t possible.

Developers created InpiroBot.

Technologists and futurists have a general level of wit that more dry, sarcastic and spot-on than most. And futurist comedians, even more so. Take a look at Douglas Adam’s Hyperland

A recent article I read seemed to poke fun at the idea that ‘computers could be funny’.

“Artificial intelligence will never get jokes like humans do,” said Kiki Hempelmann, a computational linguist who studies humor at Texas A&M University-Commerce. “In themselves, they have no need for humor. They miss completely context.”

I have a problem with that statement. And it’s not just the excruciating missing letter ‘u’ in humour.

The problem I have is with the concept expressed that “Artificial Intelligence will never”.

Given enough context, the ability to read a room, to understand the background and expectations of an audience, to get the complexities of language and the triple meanings? Which bit of that will ‘never’ be conquered? We just took a picture of the shadow of a ‘black hole’ ffs…

  • Massively scaled computing power already has an amazing ability, better than humans, to recall and regurgitate fact. Reference and current affairs, done.
  • Systems can already read faces and detect different emotion. Reading a room better than a comedian. Done.
  • Understanding background of people is something that Facebook and Google have been doing accurately for many many years. The audience buy the ticket with their Phone… background Done.
  • Expectations? Well, that’s to laugh, with NOT AT, the system. There’s the reward. Done.
  • Complexities of language? Come’on? Natural Language Processing is progressing at pace and wow, have you seen what can be done in terms of sentiment and Entity extraction at the drop of a hat now?
  • Which part of this or this don’t sound like the start of an algorithmic design ‘sprint planning meeting’? Premise, punch-line, tagline, even triple meanings and word plays. The are all learned from experience and Machine Learning is very good at learning by repetition.
  • Comedians take years to learn from their mistakes and become a polished act. Artificial intelligence could take the development and convergence of all of the factors above and become a polished act in weeks.


“I say, I say, I say”…. I said. It’s all in the delivery and the showmanship? Nah, I’ve seen robots that can dancesing, build housesPrancing around on a stage like Micheal McIntyre? How hard can that seriously be? It might take 5 years, 10 years, but it’s not insurmountable.

The inevitability of humour spewing forth from AI is just as likely as AI based painting or animations. Couple that with some of the funniest and most intelligent humourists I know.. working in AI and technology. They’re all futurists. They are creating this stuff.

What is so special about humour as an art form – or even as a witty off-the-cuff and inappropriate comment – that makes it so untouchable?

I’ll tell you why. Because it’s MY sense of humour that counts. If I find something funny then it’s funny. If I don’t, then it’s by definition not funny, regardless what you think. I can tell you now that I won’t find computer generated comedy funny, because it’s the human experience that validates it.

Of course it’s possible – and sadly we’re too blind to prevent it from happening.

Or.. perhaps there’s an outside chance that this last bastion of humanity, the greatest Turing test of them all, what we find funny on a personal level, will be the one thing we finally get protective about.

You can take my privacy and predict my life. But don’t even dream about going near my sense of humour…

I’m concerned that modeling humour, while an interesting and honourable academic pursuit, is a truly terrifying proposition.

Imagine the control that is already apparent and being exerted by the narrow elements of AI that already exist? Once our humour is sucked into that, we lose complete control. That’s the end of the (punch) line for me.

That’s when you’ll find me in a bunker playing “Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy” on my original Sinclair Spectrum for some real computer-based humour… until the singularity arrives or I find the meaning to Life the Universe and Everything.

But I think I’m safe, just like the humans, the robots probably won’t ‘get’ me.

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Disclaimer: This is all my own opinion and experience and isn’t necessarily reflective of the views of my current or previous employers. It may have been written by a bot. You tell me?

About Martin: Over the past 17 years I’ve worked with Chief Legal Officers, General Counsel, Compliance Professionals and ‘Big Law’ firms globally, to create and implement systems and processes that reduce the likelihood of failure during a crisis. I can’t tell joke or write them.