Gained in Translation

Image of an Orangutan behind an amazon echo
Forging a common language

Your virtual assistant is not without a sense of humor. Its repertoire includes the classic story involving a chicken and a road.  But will Alexa laugh at your jokes? Will she groan at your puns? 

Telling jokes is one thing. Teaching a computer to recognize humor is another, because a clear definition of humor is lacking. But doing so is a step toward making more natural interactions with A.I.  

Find out what’s involved in tickling A.I.’s funny bone. Also, an interstellar communication challenge: Despite debate about the wisdom of transmitting messages to space, one group sends radio signals to E.T. anyway. Find out how they crafted a non-verbal message and what it contained.

Plus, why using nuanced language to connive and scheme ultimately turned us into a more peaceful species. And yes, it’s all gouda: why melted cheese may be the cosmic message of peace we need.


Segments (via
Part 1: Julia Rayz / A.I. Comedy
Part 2: Steve Adler / Moon Cheese
Part 3: Doug Vakoch / Messaging E.T.
Part 4: Richard Wrangham / We Domesticated Apes

originally aired April 22, 2019