Sarcasm: a mode of satirical wit depending for its effect on bitter, caustic, and often ironic language that is usually directed against an individual.
The pursuit of machine intelligence means we have to come up with ways to communicate with our computers in a way both entities can understand. But while computers process verbal commands in a straightforward fashion, humans tend to use more sophisticated speech forms, employing slang or symbols to convey an idea. So an Israeli research team has developed a machine algorithm that can recognize sarcasm.
SASI, a Semi-supervised Algorithm for Sarcasm Identification, can recognize sarcastic sentences in product reviews online with pretty astounding 77 percent precision. To create such an algorithm, the team scanned 66,000 Amazon.com product reviews, with three different human annotators tagging sentences for sarcasm. The team then identified certain sarcastic patterns that emerged in the reviews and created a classification algorithm that puts each statement into a sarcastic class.
The program’s performance is still far from perfect, probably because sarcasm is such a complicated social construct, said Katherine Rankin, a neuropsychologist at the University of California, San Francisco in interview.
“That’s about as good as a person with bad social skills would do,” she said. While such a program might be good enough to help rank reviews, she added, “if the purpose of having a computer program recognize sarcasm is to be like prosthetic for people with poor social skills, I’m not entirely sure those people are really going to benefit .
To truly get interpret a comment like “Oh, I LOVE working on Saturdays,” Rankin said, people usually need to know something about the context of a situation and the person who’s talking. Cues like eye rolling and a lilting tone of voice help. None of those are available in online communities.
“Our brains pick up complex social cues and process many subtle things,” she said. “Computers are nowhere near getting there.”
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