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Kristian Hammond, Professor and NU Alum Patrick McNally (Ph.D. 13'), who is currently a Visiting Instructor in the Computer Science Dept at Pomona College are quoted in a WIRED online article, titled, "It’s Comedian vs. Computer in a Battle for Humor Supremacy" by Joel Warner and Peter McGraw, published on Tuesday, Aptil 1, 2014.

Both Hammond and McNally commented on their joke-generation system Manatee, which they developed as part of the Intelligent Information Laboratory. To create its jokes, Manatee scours the Internet for word combinations that fit into well-known humorous phrases, such as “I like my X like I like my Y…” Then it combines the resulting witticism with a related photo to create a three-panel webcomic, like this:

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Manatee is an automatically generated webcomic system that attempts to complete a common English expression in a funny or thought provoking manner. To this end, the system mines the internet for sentences, tallying words that occur next to one another. This statistical information then guides the construction of a humorous or insightful phrase that is set agaist the back-drop of a related photograph.

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Hammond's Quotes:

“Just the facts, ma’am,’ isn’t going to play as machines get more and more involved in our lives,” says Northwestern University professor Kristian Hammond, who helped design Manatee and now develops news-writing computer programs for the company Narrative Science. “It’s all about making the communication between people and the machine a smooth, compelling interaction.”

McNally's Quotes

“I gave it a try and felt the structure provided a very nice abstract backdrop for the expressions I was getting my computer to make,” he says. “The Manatee system is not a very smart system. It doesn’t understand language in the ways that you and I understand language. It cheats its way around intelligence. But it also produces funny text on occasion.”

Read the full article