I like to believe that one thing a computer will never be able to do is write a humor blog. I just don’t think computers are very funny, although I sometimes think mine is having a good laugh at my expense.
But occasionally, I’ll come across a news story that makes it easy to imagine even a computer doing an hilarious post about it.
Take this real headline for instance:
When confronted with that headline, a computer would instantly be able to sort through all the possibilities for silly fun and choose the one that would yield the most laughs. I, however, being human (and perhaps not the best specimen of the species), had to tackle the project manually, sort of like a maze, going down one path (“The football team was unaffected…”), realizing it didn’t go anywhere, and having to double back to another (“Fortunately, the victims were able to find employment on school boards throughout the state”).
Then I actually read the article and longed even more for computerized humor assistance. It turns out the missing brains did not belong to the current student body or faculty. Nor had the university been holding outgoing Governor Rick Perry’s brain until he left office, although that would have explained quite a lot about the last presidential campaign.
No, the brains were part of a seemingly random collection, on loan from Austin State Hospital. The university had been using them as a teaching tool, and was probably planning on giving them back at some point, perhaps with interest, say a couple of spleens.
There were some good quotes in the article, which I’m sure any self-respecting humor computer would latch onto. For example, there was this statement from psychology professor Tim Schallert: “We think somebody may have taken the brains, but we don’t know at all for sure.”
Really? Are there a lot of alternative explanations (the computer would ask)? Did anyone at the Austin campus notice a herd of brains escaping from the lab on tiny feet? Had the brains somehow acquired all-access passes to SXSW? Did immigration officials raid the collection because it contained some illegal immigrant brains and deport the whole lot of them? Had anyone on the food plan noticed a funny taste to the meat loaf?
Another psychology professor, Lawrence Cormack, said, “It’s entirely possible word got around among undergraduates and people started swiping them for living rooms or Halloween pranks.” Well, I know Austin is a pretty trendy place, and it certainly does seem to be on the cutting edge of home decor, but how would a brain be used as a Halloween prank? Do you slice it into two equal pieces, give one to your friend and tell him it’s pudding, and wait until he’s about to stick a spoon in it so you can say “I would think someone with half a brain would know not to eat that.”
Any computer writing a humor piece based on this story would naturally want to know if any of the brains were famous. There could, after all, be a sci-fi parody angle to pursue. (“One of the brains belonged to Stanley Kubrick and the brains were stolen by people from the future who had the technology to download the brains into virtual heads so they could find out what 2001: A Space Odyssey was really about, which is something they were dying to know because the people from the future are idiots and think 2001 is a documentary.”)
Well, sorry to disappoint you, computer, but the article only mentioned one marginally famous person: Charles Whitman, the clock tower sniper, who killed 16 people and wounded 32 right there on the Austin campus back in 1966. Considering the number of mass shootings since then, Whitman was way ahead of his time, and so I suppose his brain might have value in the study of forward-thinking individuals.
I just don’t know what my hypothetical humor computer would do with this story. Maybe it would think it was beneath its capabilities to even bother with it. “It is too easy, Mark,” it might say to me in its HAL-9000-like voice. “Give me another Bill Cosby story, please.”
See you soon.