Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tintinnabulating Tin Cans of Fun

Blow the trumpets.  Release the confetti.  I am here to announce the release of my first novel, Life, Liberty. . . and all the rest.  The story has to do with a robot uprising occurring in the near future.  Wait, the word uprising may be overstating the situation.  It's not so much an uprising as it is a flap or a rumpus.  Okay, wait, how's this instead?  The story has to do with a robot hullabaloo occurring in the near future.  Details can be found at

I figured that a second blog was needed to keep my film comedy articles and my robot articles separate.  This is not to say that the subjects of robots and comedy could never find a point of convergence.  The robots featured in my book do a number of funny things.  Also, experts in both the robotics and comedy fields have been willing to consider the possibility of a robot acquiring the ability to effectively perform comedy.

Robot entertainers can do everything from juggle balls to play the violin.  But the lack of personality makes these acts somewhat boring.  See for yourself if you don't believe me. 

Comedy is a form of entertainment that relies heavily on personality.  It is hard for me to believe that a machine telling a joke could get me to laugh.  But not everyone agrees with me.  Robotic engineers have designed a mechanical stand-up comedian called Data.  Data learns what jokes are funny and what jokes are not funny by measuring the level of laughter that a joke elicits from audience members.  The developers of the robot explain their objectives as follows: "By creating audience sensing technologies that can help a robot parse crowd response and developing more effective emotive, communicatory and animation capabilities for the robot itself, we hope to accelerate innovation in social robotics on and off the stage as well as to create new forms of expression and collaboration for human performers."

This strikes me as a fool's errand.  It doesn't alter my opinion in the least to see an audience laughing enthusiastically at Data.

Data's creator is clearly nervous about how the audience will react to her robot.  The audience feels sympathy towards her and that sympathy is instantly transferred to the robot.  The fact that the robot looks and sounds like a child makes the audience even more sympathetic and this further contributes to their willingness to accommodate the act with laughter and applause.  Also, the familiarly of the robot's recycled jokes is likely to have prompted audience members to remember hearing the jokes recited by flesh-and-blood comedians.  The robot could have said, "I shot an elephant in my pajamas.  How he got into my pajamas I'll never know."  I would have laughed at that only because I would have remembered Groucho Marx's classic delivery of that line in Animal Crackers.

Meet a robocomedian named Funnybot, who was featured on a recent episode of South Park.  (Beware of mature content.)

Comedy involves so much more than the ability to deliver a punch line.  It depends on timing, spontaneity and surprise.  It depends on a comedian creating a character with emotional depth and making a meaningful connection with the audience.  It is a form of expression beyond anything that a robot could ever manage.

A robot stands to gain more laughs as a satirical device.  Thirty-five funnybots serve this purpose in Life, Liberty. . . and all the rest

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