Alexa and Siri may tell jokes mined from a humour database, but they just don’t get them. Understanding humour may be one of the last things that separates humans from ever-smarter machines, computer scientists and linguists say.

“People need to learn how to think funny as opposed to being logical…We tend to laugh at the wrong answer or the weird answer,” said comedian Kurtis Matthews, owner of San Francisco Comedy College, has been teaching comedy for nearly 2 decades.

Turns out there is a similar challenge for scientists and linguists when it comes to programming robots.

Siri may be able to tell a joke, but understanding human humour is still a tall order, even as AI gets better and can perform more complex tasks.

“Humour is very subtle and requires a lot of understanding of human social rules and context,” said Heather Knight, Assisstant professor of engineering and computer science at Oregon State University.

Knight created the comedy performing robot Ginger, to help design better machines that can interact with humans.

“Even when we travel to another country being able to get into the mind of the culture is pretty difficult.”

The technology is still a long way from being perfect.

 “I think people are much better at figuring out what’s funny rather than robots. One of the things that I’m trying to do is to get lots of different people in an audience into a room for a sequence of shows and see what people think is funny,” said Knight.

For the moment, robots will have to stick to their regular routine of copying jokes, rather than coming up with them themselves.

For more human humour read: 2019’s best April Fool’s jokes in South Africa – and the very many bad ones

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