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Programmed for Humor

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati are trying to program computers to recognize a joke. So far, they've only gotten to the kindergarten level, by teaching computers to recognize words that sound the same (but are spelled differently) or words that sound somewhat similar and can be taken more than one way. In a word, puns. The example in the article reminds me of my daughter's first joke. She approached me carrying a broom and said, "Shh! Be quiet! I'm trying to SWEEP!" I laughed at that all day, but mainly because she was two years old and had never successfully told a joke before.

Joke recognition software could be very useful to someone like me. I'm always searching the internet for humor, but funny stories are often not labeled with the words "humor", "funny", or "joke". The program in this project allows a computer to recognize a joke, but it still cannot discriminate between a funny joke and a dud. That's fine, if you're a kindergarten humorist, but it won't lead to an improvement in joke-telling when all you receive is positive feedback (insert mechanical voice: "That is a joke. Ha ha ha"). They hope to expand the program's repertoire eventually, and learn more about human reactions to humor by replicating them in a computer. It seems like an uphill battle to me. The human brain has an almost unlimited capacity for obscure connections, which many people never use. You can tell a lot about a person by whether they understand and appreciate very subtle humor. If he "gets it", he shows a certain level of intelligence. If he gets it and still doesn't crack a smile, he may be a snob or just too serious for my tastes. Studying human reactions to humor is a complex process that most of us do without thinking.

What will this lead to? Will we eventually have household robots who not only do chores, but laugh at our lame attempts at humor? That's what we have children for!

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NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero
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technology
Researchers in Singapore Deploy Robot Swans to Test Water Quality
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero

There's something peculiar about the new swans floating around reservoirs in Singapore. They drift across the water like normal birds, but upon closer inspection, onlookers will find they're not birds at all: They're cleverly disguised robots designed to test the quality of the city's water.

As Dezeen reports, the high-tech waterfowl, dubbed NUSwan (New Smart Water Assessment Network), are the work of researchers at the National University of Singapore [PDF]. The team invented the devices as a way to tackle the challenges of maintaining an urban water source. "Water bodies are exposed to varying sources of pollutants from urban run-offs and industries," they write in a statement. "Several methods and protocols in monitoring pollutants are already in place. However, the boundaries of extensive assessment for the water bodies are limited by labor intensive and resource exhaustive methods."

By building water assessment technology into a plastic swan, they're able to analyze the quality of the reservoirs cheaply and discreetly. Sensors on the robots' undersides measure factors like dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll levels. The swans wirelessly transmit whatever data they collect to the command center on land, and based on what they send, human pilots can remotely tweak the robots' performance in real time. The hope is that the simple, adaptable technology will allow researchers to take smarter samples and better understand the impact of the reservoir's micro-ecosystem on water quality.

Man placing robotic swan in water.
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero

This isn't the first time humans have used robots disguised as animals as tools for studying nature. Check out this clip from the BBC series Spy in the Wild for an idea of just how realistic these robots can get.

[h/t Dezeen]

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REM-Fit
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Live Smarter
Stop Your Snoring and Track Your Sleep With a Wi-Fi Smart Pillow
REM-Fit
REM-Fit

Everyone could use a better night's rest. The CDC says that only 66 percent of American adults get as much sleep as they should, so if you're spending plenty of time in bed but mostly tossing and turning (or trying to block out your partner's snores), it may be time to smarten up your sleep accessories. As TechCrunch reports, the ZEEQ Smart Pillow improves your sleeping schedule in a multitude of ways, whether you're looking to quiet your snores or need a soothing lullaby to rock you to sleep.

After a successful Kickstarter in 2016, the product is now on sale and ready to get you snoozing. If you're a snorer, the pillow has a microphone designed to listen to the sound of your snores and softly vibrate so that you shift positions to a quieter pose. Accelerometers in the pillow let the sleep tracker know how much you're moving around at night, allowing it to record your sleep stages. Then, you can hook the pillow up to your Amazon Echo or Google Home so that you can have your favorite smart assistant read out the pillow's analysis of your sleep quality and snoring levels the next morning.

The pillow is also equipped with eight different wireless speakers that turn it into an extra-personal musical experience. You can listen to soothing music while you fall asleep, either connecting the pillow to your Spotify or Apple Music account on your phone via Bluetooth or using the built-in relaxation programs. You can even use it to listen to podcasts without disturbing your partner. You can set a timer to turn the music off after a certain period so you don't wake up in the middle of the night still listening to Serial.

And when it's time to wake up, the pillow will analyze your movements to wake you during your lightest sleep stage, again keeping the noise of an alarm from disturbing your partner.

The downside? Suddenly your pillow is just another device with a battery that needs to charge. And forget about using it in a place without Wi-Fi.

The ZEEQ Smart Pillow currently costs $200.

[h/t TechCrunch]

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