The Joking Computer
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The online version of the Joking Computer is now available.

Ruli Manurung


I have always been fascinated with making computer programs that are creative. In 1996, when I was in the final year of my undergraduate degree at the University of Indonesia, I built a small program (in the programming language Java) that used the Genetic Algorithm to build poems in Indonesian by selecting words from a dictionary that had been tagged with "emotions". I don't like to boast, but I'll say this: it was fairly rubbish. However, I was so proud when I found out a year later that my program was featured in the book "Java for Dummies" under the heading "Yes, they do program in Java on Java"!

Shortly after graduating, I started teaching programming and data structures, and in 1998 I was fortunate enough to obtain a fellowship to do my PhD in Artificial Intelligence at the University of Edinburgh. It was the perfect opportunity to explore, in much more depth, the idea of a computer program that could automatically write poetry. I had to learn a lot about Natural Language Processing, the research field which is concerned with getting computers to understand and generate human languages such as English. It turned out to be such a difficult task that I focused on a much simpler type of poetry -- think less Shakespeare, more Three Blind Mice. The program tried to put together a text that both made sense and also had "metre" -- the rhythms formed by the words in each line. This was a very novel approach, because up until then computer programs that generated poetry didn't really care much for meaning -- their results were often referred to as 'word salad'.

Three mice
© Cindy Seigle

Edinburgh castle at night
© Rich Barrett-Small

Having finished my PhD thesis in 2003, I started work as a Research Fellow on yet another exciting 'creative generation' program: the STANDUP project, which constructed The Joking Computer. It was a fantastic challenge, and I'm not even referring to the fact that I had to wade through a ton of awful puns. Even though it was very hard work, building the system was such fun, and it was definitely worth it to see the joy on the faces of the children who were using the software.

Since the end of 2006, I have been back at the University of Indonesia, where I am currently the Coordinator for the Computer Science department. It's a lot of hard work having to manage courses, classrooms, curriculums, admissions, examinations, and most importantly, funding to keep all of it running -- all the while having to face complaints from students and lecturers alike! However, I still try to squeeze some spare time to do some research. At the moment I am working on various projects to build up the resources and tools that are needed to process the Indonesian language. Things such as dictionaries, grammars, and spell-checkers, that are so commonplace for English, still need to be developed for Indonesian. In turn, these will become building blocks for more advanced systems, such as programs that can automatically translate to and from Indonesian, or even understand Indonesian speech. It's a rather popular language -- there are around 250 million speakers!

Prambanan temple
© Riza Nugraha

© Perantau Sepi Lodge

As if I didn't have enough on my plate, I am also working on a completely different project to write programs that can take a photo of a Batik cloth -- the traditional cloth from Java -- and automatically identify the motif and which part of Java the cloth comes from!

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