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Op-Ed: AI humor — What’s new? Not much. Praise the witless and pass the big budgets!

AI humor? Bring it on.

AI offers opportunities to social media influencers but also presents risks
AI offers opportunities to social media influencers but also presents risks - Copyright AFP John MACDOUGALL
AI offers opportunities to social media influencers but also presents risks - Copyright AFP John MACDOUGALL

If you’re a writer, you already know where a lot of modern humor came from. A lot of it came from your grandparents. A lot came from naughty kids in preschool. The rest is a sort of endless puberty.

AI generally recycles content as standard practice. Recycled jokes are common for desperate professionals. You might change a word or a topic. It’s an actual formula, much like an algorithm.

Apparently, AI humor has been generating a lot of headlines for years. Can’t say I’d noticed. Otherwise, everything seems normal. There are the traditional lawsuits, terrified predictions of the end of comedy, and pretty much anything you’d expect from AI-related publicity.

I have this vision of people solemnly goose-stepping into a room and holding a meeting for launching a new AI comedy.

Boss: “You, whoever you are. Is this funny?

Person: “I don’t know yet. I’m in sales.”

Fortunately for AI-generated comedy, it’s pretty easy to go over the heads of a modern audience. The right combination of words will make it relatable to this uncritical collection of demographics. It can therefore work as a media product.

The major question isn’t whether AI humor can work. It’s why do it in the first place? Where is the demand for a non-human joke factory? Why does anyone think it’s worth doing?

There’s some thoroughly deserved humor in those questions, if you have a bucket and spade and a lot of time on your hands.

Forbes has a somewhat long-winded but thorough examination of AI humor in context with generative AI and the various IP issues.

The theory that nobody knows what humor is gets a regular workout in the doom-laden tales. What makes something funny is so obvious that nobody’s noticed yet.

The inevitable payoff for AI humor predictions is that it will be lowest common denominator stuff as usual. It will be permissible to laugh at it.  Instead of getting recycled jokes from humans you’ll get them from a machine which like most comedy writers can’t even turn itself off.

Human comedy writing is a pretty tortuous process. First you have to get somebody interested in your stuff. Then you have to work with other people to help make you funny.

There are writer’s meetings with the funny people and other people to make sure they’re not too funny. There are production meetings, sets, lawyers. etc. One of the reasons standup comedy became so popular was not having to do all those things or pay for them.

Could AI humor could be a sort of humanitarian way of ending the turgid comedies and putting the poor sods who produce it out of their misery?  Maybe, but that means you’d have a lot of unemployed, resentful, comedians roaming around.

Life could become dangerous, even funny.

Finding examples of AI humor isn’t easy or noticeably informative. The paranoia is such that most articles are more critiques than raw data. The AI jokes generators are ubiquitous. (I’d almost entirely forgotten about those.)

Meanwhile back at why bother doing this at all:

There’s a pattern of dehumanization of media. Music companies want “cooperative” people, not musicians. Publishers hate dealing directly with writers, which is why you have to give an agent 20% of your money. Comedy involves thought, which isn’t core business in most media. Sets and makeup cost money, so use graphics and deepfakes.

It’s a picturesque Utopia of non-existent people providing role models for actual people. Put slightly more clearly, it’s about more money for distributors. The absolute bottom of the dunghill are the people who make the product.

Just because someone makes billions for you doesn’t mean that you have to take them seriously or pay them decent money, etc. Writers are harder to replace than most because they have to do the communications work.

What if there was some method of just paying for the electricity instead? Humor is a bit more difficult than most bread-and-butter writing. It’s supposed to be funny.

People, those self-indulgent swine who pay for things, like your timid and turgid media careers, happen to like laughing. So, whether you like it or not, comedy has to be funny.

Otherwise, nobody will buy it and you’ll have to work for a living almost like you were a real person. See the joke? Of course not.

Humor is not the final bastion of humanity. It’s the distant outer defenses. If you don’t have a sense of absurdity, you’re a proven idiot, aka witless. See American politics for details.  If you don’t see the absurdity in AI humor, you’re probably a media professional. AI humor? Bring it on.


The opinions expressed in this Op-Ed are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Digital Journal or its members.

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Editor-at-Large based in Sydney, Australia.

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