Joking Computer helps Debenhams make Christmas cracking

Joke-generating computer software developed by Aberdeen scientists is helping Debenhams put the festive spirit into their Christmas crackers this year.

The high street store has commissioned the University’s Computing Science Department to come up with some gags just for them, to be considered for inclusion in their crackers.

Debenhams spokesman Ed Watson said: “It is often said that computers do things more efficiently than humans, but it seemed like humour was the one area computers would never grasp — until now.

“The riddle-style funnies the new software creates are ideal for Christmas crackers and we hope to work with the University to include them in ours in the future.”

The software, known as The Joking Computer, has the capacity to build millions of jokes using a large dictionary of words and simple language rules.

It was originally devised to help children with disabilities such as cerebral palsy, to play with words and phrases to build on their language skills.

Dr Judith Masthoff, Senior Lecturer in the University of Aberdeen’s Department of Computing Science, one of a team of scientists who developed the software said: “We were pleased Debenhams appreciated our computer-generated jokes and hope any future collaboration will help bring our work to a wider audience.

“The aim of The Joking Computer is to help children and adults alike to explore language in a unique and fun way.

“All the jokes are question-answer puns, like those you get in Christmas crackers. The software allows you to see how the joke-making process works.    Or you can choose roughly what sort of joke you want, and have the computer build a new one.”

“The software was originally developed by scientists from the Universities of Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh to provide children with cerebral palsy, or similar impairments, with a device to help them advance their language abilities.”

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