Proof of Funny

I like to joke that the single greatest crime anyone can commit is being unfunny.

I’m only partially joking.

There is something about having a sense of humor that conveys a humanity others can connect with. It’s a litmus test for how human you are.

In an era filled with automation and weird AI-generated content, humor – especially satire – is an increasingly valuable signal of genuine humanity.

Arthur Koestler has an interesting book called, The Act of Creation, which is an exploration of human creativity. He focuses on the “Eureka” moment in science, art, and humor. New inventions and artistic masterpieces make sense. But humor?

Koestler describes the laughter-inducing moment of any joke as the intersection of two matrices of thought that are totally separate. When they unexpectedly collide, the moment of delight, realization, or shock produces awareness of some kind of absurdity in the human condition and we laugh.

Humor – especially satire – is an incredibly nuanced thing. Comedians make their mark by expertly observing things so universally agreed upon as true that audiences will immediately get it, but so universally hidden from everyone’s view that the act of revealing them is a surprise. That is a tough combo for AI.

AI is based on vacuuming up massive quantities of information shared by humans and emulating and repeating the structures and patterns. Humor is based on insights humans have about the things other humans don’t say – ideas, behaviors, and beliefs you didn’t know you recognized until someone said it. The source material is unseen insight, not shared data.

I’ve noticed more and more of the web is being eaten up by algorithmically produced content. Not only is it eerie in the subtle ways it’s just a bit off, it’s never unironically funny.

I’ve also noticed plenty of (I think?) real humans who are increasingly machine-like in their lack of humor.

Maybe we won’t turn AI into humanlike entities. Maybe algorithms will turn humans into AI-like entities.

If so, lack of funnyness would be the greatest casualty.

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