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Programmed for Humor

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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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Space
SpaceX's Landing Blooper Reel Shows That Even Rocket Scientists Make Mistakes
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SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launches.
AFP/Stringer/Getty Images

On March 30, 2017, SpaceX did something no space program had done before: They relaunched an orbital class rocket from Earth that had successfully achieved lift-off just a year earlier. It wasn't the first time Elon Musk's company broke new ground: In December 2015, it nailed the landing on a reusable rocket—the first time that had been done—and five months later landed a rocket on a droneship in the middle of the ocean, which was also unprecedented. These feats marked significant moments in the history of space travel, but they were just a few of the steps in the long, messy journey to achieve them. In SpaceX's new blooper reel, spotted by Ars Technica, you can see just some of the many failures the company has had along the way.

The video demonstrates that failure is an important part of the scientific process. Of course when the science you're working in deals with launching and landing rockets, failure can be a lot more dramatic than it is in a lab. SpaceX has filmed their rockets blowing up in the air, disintegrating in the ocean, and smashing against landing pads, often because of something small like a radar glitch or lack of propellant.

While explosions—or "rapid unscheduled disassemblies," as the video calls them—are never ideal, some are preferable to others. The Falcon 9 explosion that shook buildings for miles last year, for instance, ended up destroying the $200 million Facebook satellite onboard. But even costly hiccups such as that one are important to future successes. As Musk once said, "If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough."

You can watch the fiery compilation below.

[h/t Ars Technica]

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travel
One Day, You May Not Have to Take Your Laptop Out at the Airport
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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

TSA security lines might be a little less annoying in the future. According to Condé Nast Traveler, the agency will soon test new airport scanners that allow you to keep your liquids and laptop in your carry-on bag during security screening, a benefit currently only available to those who have been accepted into the agency’s PreCheck program.

The ConneCT scanners have met the TSA's "advanced technology detection standards," according to the company that makes them, Analogic, meaning that they can be tested out at airports across the U.S.

Computed tomography scanning technology is regularly used in hospitals and research labs for everything from diagnosing cancer to studying mummies. The imaging technique uses x-rays that rotate around whatever object is being imaged to create 3D images that provide more detail than those created by the regular x-ray scanners currently used to inspect carry-on luggage.

The ConneCT scanners have been in the works for 10 years. The devices have x-ray cameras that spin around the conveyor belt that holds your bag, creating a 3D image of it. Then algorithms help flag whether there's something suspicious inside so that it can be pulled aside for further screening by hand. They've already been tested in airports in Phoenix and Boston, but haven't been used on a national level yet.

But don't expect to see the high-tech scanners at your local airport anytime soon. According to the TSA, they have to undergo yet more testing before any of the machines can be deployed, and there’s no timetable for that yet.

Until then, as you're packing your liquids, just remember—you can always just freeze them.

[h/t Conde Nast Traveler]

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