Artificial Intelligence can come up with jokes, but it can require emotional intelligence to make them work. But comedian bots are ready to kill.

In roast battles and shows, comics are experimenting with models like ChatGPT.

Last month, in the crowded back room of a bar in Brooklyn, the fate of humanity hung in balance.

Or at least that's how Matt Maran, a bro-y comic from the adjacent borough of Queens, portrayed it. He was bidding for sympathy during what was billed as the first roast battle pitting artificial intelligence against a human comedian.

It didn't work. Maran lost the crowd early with a joke that riffed on the idea that women aren't funny. His opponent was a ChatGPT-powered version of Sarah Silverman, the comic who, as it happens, had sued the developer behind the chatbot for copyright infringement.

''Why did the humans stare at the glass or orange juice?'' It asked in a close approximation of her girlish voice. '' They were trying to concentrate.'' Then oddly, it proclaimed, ''Roasted!''

Neither side was getting big laughs, but the A.I. was more unflappable, moving from quip to quip with the pace of a metronome. Some jokes were simple similes. [ You're as edgy as a butter knife.] Humanity lost every round.

It's tempting to conclude that this defeat was an existential sign of the looming robot takeover of comedy, but the face-off felt closer to your grandfather playing computer chess than to Garry Kasparov versus Deep Blue.

Still the event did drive home an important point about one the many current anxieties surrounding A.I. : If the human lock on humor is coming to an end, the blame will lie with our complacency as much as technological progress.

UNTIL RECENTLY, comedy has been seen as so quintessentially human that it was assumed A.I. would kill humanity before it would at a club. But since the rise of large language models like ChatGPT less than a year ago, this common wisdom no longer applies.

A.I.'s potential displacement of humans has become a central issue in the labor disputes in Hollywood. Jimmy Kimmel told jokes written by ChatGPT on his show in February, and once cautious computer scientists are now predicting it will be only a matter of years before robots are regularly generating professional comedy.

The accomplished comic writer Simon Rich appeared shaken after using codedavinci-002, a bot not available to the public. When he asked it for a parody headline for the conflict started by Russia, it responded :

'' Experts Warn That War In Ukraine Could Become Even More Boring.'' Rich said he didn't think he could beat it and ''certainly not instantaneously, for free.''

There's no question that A.I. can think faster than any comedian can and study the mechanics of a joke with more agility than ever before. Even if irony and tone can still be challenging, its sense of humour will only improve.

It's worth recalling that in the 1990s, supercomputers lost to chess grandmasters before they started winning. But comedy is not chess. And whether A.I. can intentionally generate truly funny art is as much a philosophical as a technological question.

The Publishing continues.The World Students Society thanks author Jason Zinoman.


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