The Joking Computer
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You can try out the Joking Computer online NOW on this site.
Or you can download a copy to use on your own PC.

The Science of Humour

Humour is very important in our lives. It can change how we feel about things. It affects how we deal with people: if two people find the same things funny, that can bring them closer together. People have a huge appetite for humour: think of the vast industry of comedy, in films, TV, books, the internet, comedy clubs, etc.

And yet, we have no idea of the real secret of humour. It involves some sort of thinking (to "get the joke") and some sort of emotions (to enjoy, or to hate, the joke), but it is not clear how these work, and how the thinking and the feeling fit together. There are some tricks that seem to help: surprise, double meanings, good timing, forbidden ideas, puzzles, etc. But there are lots of different kinds of jokes, which seem to work in different ways. Is there something special that is in all of them? What is it?

joke formula

This means we have something very complex which has quite a strong affect on people and society, but which we don't understand fully. In such a situation, scientists try to develop theories. They analyse examples of humour, trying to figure out what is going on. Then they put forward some ideas (hypotheses) about a possible answer... usually just a partial answer that might work for some cases but not for every joke.

Then, how can we test these ideas? One approach is to build the ideas into a computer program, run the program and see what happens. If the program behaves humorously in the way that the theory says it should, then we have learned something. If the program does not work as we hoped.... then we have also learned something -- that the ideas were not correct!

So programs like The Joking Computer can be used to test out ideas about how (very simple) jokes work.

  More about the study of humour


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