We need all the laughs we can get - even if the source is mechanical. Meet Ginger the joke-telling robot, or as you might say, a LOLbot (as opposed to RoboThespian, which has talents in addition to humor). BTW, Technovelgy readers should have little difficulty recognizing Aldebaran Robotics' Nao robot.
(Ginger the LOLbot)
"If you prick us in our battery pack, do we not bleed alkaline fluid?" asks Ginger the Robot, haltingly throwing up its arms in its best impression of a real-life comedian.
Truth be told, if Ginger were a human it'd be dying on stage. The cute little machine's monotone voice has all the drama of a conveyer belt, while its expression is as vacant as a doll.
Comedic timing is hard to master -- particularly when you have no emotions.
Luckily for Ginger, sitting beside it is comedy sidekick -- and programmer -- Heather Knight.
"When it talks about its 'perception capabilities still being in development' -- that gets a laugh almost every single time," explained Knight, who programs all of Ginger's dialogue and movements herself. "People love when it goes all super-techy and acts like a real robot.
"One of the things I've learned from interviewing comedians over the years, is that part of what makes a performance compelling is authenticity. If you're going to be a comedian, you need to bring material from yourself."
Is the idea of a joke-telling robot an old gag? Maybe. In his 1951 short story The Jester, William Tenn introduces sf audiences to the idea of a robot comedian:
"You changed his shape!" Lester yelped accusingly, "I sent you a smooth-lined twenty-two hundred and seven model with the cylindrical trunk. You bring back a pear-shaped piece of machinery looking like a wadjacallit - as if it had a paunch all the way around!"
"Look, sir, the techs just had to expand his midsection. Even on microwire that file of jokes took up a lot of space... More space, more weight. But let me turn him on..."
(Read more about William Tenn's robot comedian)