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Will Our Computer Overlords Celebrate April Fools' Day?

Today is April Fools’ Day, a day where people across the world engage in time-honored traditions like finding salt in their sugar bowls, their offices filled with balloons, or a crazy, new feature from Google. But could the end of April Fools’ Day be nigh? Thanks to Watson’s dominating performance on Jeopardy a couple months ago, some people fear the age of computer dominion may not be too far in the future. This begs an important question: if machines rule the world, will April Fools’ Day (and humor in general) survive—or will a legion of unfunny automatons be our new masters?

According to work by Justin McKay, computers can be programmed to generate jokes. He created a program called WISECRAIC, which makes “simple idiom-based witticisms”—wordplay jokes like, “The friendly gardener had thyme for the woman.” Here’s how WISECRAIC comes up with them:

But the important test—are they funny? According to McKay’s study, which had a weak but not wholly ineffective methodology, human judges identified 84 percent of WISECRAIC’s efforts as jokes. Computers might still be a long way off from creating documentaries about flying penguins on April Fools’ Day, but by the time they advance far enough to rule us, they might develop enough to make jokes beyond simple word play. 

For more research on what’s in the news, check out the rest of TNR’s newest blog, The Study.