Strategic CIO // IT Strategy
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6/6/2014
07:00 AM
David Wagner
David Wagner
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Geekend: Sarcasm Detector Wanted

US Secret Service wants a bucket for those times you are dripping with sarcasm.

and the beliefs of the person being sarcastic?

I actually think the Secret Service would do better with Facebook than Twitter, but the key is going to be in creating large databases of prior posts for context. If, for example, a known Democrat who has posted dozens of links supporting healthcare reform were to post, "I just love the GOP's latest attempt at repealing Obamacare," the sarcasm would be fairly obvious. But outside of the other posts for context, there's no real way of determining it. Sure, you can guess from the word "latest," which implies knowledge that the Republicans have attempted it more than 30 times. But you can't be certain.

So what we're really getting at here is compiling a lot of personal data about people and charting their statements against historical statements in order to establish probabilities, and that's not going to fly with people worried about privacy.

So does the sarcasm detector die there? Heck no. Even if the government realizes it can't be done, you know who can do it? Facebook and Twitter. I want a sarcasm and humor plug-in for social media.

What do you do when you type something funny into Facebook but you aren't sure the fact that you're joking will come through in the text? You add an emoticon or "jk," right?

What if Facebook did it for you? And what if they did it with a series of fantastic emoticons, ranging from a simple smiley face to an elaborate set of beautiful emoticons like these. There are 70 cat emoticons on this list alone. Clearly, there's a major difference between this cat (=^.^=) and this cat (=^_^=). And I can't even make some of the cats without going to a special characters menu. That's too much time for a Facebook emoticon. Let Facebook do it for me.

OK, the emoticons are a little frivolous, but how many friendships have been strained by someone's inability to make out a joke posted on a social network? If Facebook identified a joke for you with accuracy before your friend had to explain it, maybe there will be a lot less unfriending in the world.

Maybe, eventually, a Facebook or Twitter algorithm could even help you rewrite your posts to make them funnier.

Even if you find this whole thing frivolous, it's the perfect test bed for doing better at natural language processing. Whether it's the Secret Service or Facebook or Twitter that actually cracks this code, there's no better way to start than to figure out the nuances of social media.

What do you think? Does the notion that government types are trying to figure out humor scare you? If they do figure it out, do you think it'll improve their public service announcements? Can they do it without invading people's privacy? Would you enjoy it if Facebook started helping you with your own humor? Will computers ever truly understand natural language? Comment below.

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David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio
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Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
6/7/2014 | 7:22:07 PM
Re: Hire a Sarcasm Consultant
@LuFu    Nice.  You mentioned all the greats.   You even threw in Steven Wright for good measure !
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
6/7/2014 | 7:14:30 PM
Re: Sarcasm Detector Wanted
Regarding the Secret Service's quest to develop a way to measure sarcasm - I  really think our tax paying dollars should be spent elsewhere to be honest.  I understand the Govnerment has talked itself into believing that all forms of social media present a opportunity to find trouble before it starts.

I think the sarcasm detector is a bit much - no sarasm intended.
LUFU
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LUFU,
User Rank: Strategist
6/7/2014 | 6:18:54 PM
Hire a Sarcasm Consultant
I think Don Rickles is still alive. Get him as the Prime Sarcasm Contractor and he can sub out a lot of the work to Sarah Silverman, Lewis Black, and a few others. Too bad George Carlin and Bill Hicks are dead - they'd have all of DC in the snide and sarcastic mode in no time. They could get Steven Wright to fix their sense of irony.
Bhori
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Bhori,
User Rank: Ninja
6/7/2014 | 5:08:02 PM
Re: Sarcasm Detector Wanted
Ultimately, sarcasm is a polemical tool used by intellectual cowards.  And trolls

@ BillK627: Very well said. I have mostly used sarcasm at work as an opportunity to demonstrate the anger without leaving any proof. Sometimes it's a best way communicate what you are afraid or unable to communicate straightly.

 
Bhori
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Bhori,
User Rank: Ninja
6/7/2014 | 4:35:46 PM
Re: Sarcasm Detector Wanted
You know those signs at the airport that say, "All jokes about bombs will be taken seriously"? 

Very interesting post, David. The subject remind me of the incident, when I once checked into military college with a bag to meet someone personally. As I was without a car, the person offered me to drop the bag at my location which I accepted, as I was supposed to head somewhere else immediately after there. When I was checking out from the facility & collecting back my ID on the gate, the guard questioned me that "You went in with a bag, where is that". At the first moment, I was amazed at his observance. Then, unintentionally, the reply popped out "I have fitted it". Suddenly expressions gone blanked on the other side, other guards which were hearing the conversation came closer. There was a long pause. Though they understand the joke but certainly they didn't like it. Then, I had to briefly tell them the whole story, and they didn't let me out until they confirmed about the bag with a person I went to meet.
BillK627
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BillK627,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/7/2014 | 12:32:07 PM
Re: Sarcasm at Work
@snunyc,

Yes, the bioepistemological equivalent of sarcasm is a "knife in the back."  It is anger, masked.  The non-passive aggressive equivalent would be the outright expression of one's disagreement, the analog being direct confrontation as if one is standing face-to-face with the polemical (or physical) opponent.

Note the latter (initial, direct questioning or disagreement) also precludes the possibility of an embarrassed rejoinder that all sarcastic people employ when they're not able or not willing to shift to more honest, more open expression after being questioned or challenged about their prior attack:

"C'mon, I was only joking!  Can't you take a joke?!"

Such an excuse by the "joker" is simply another passive-aggressive attack, designed to deflect attention and elicit the one objecting to feel as if there is something wrong with his or her interpretation of the original anger, rather than engaging directly (again) with the intellectual challenger.

Ultimately, sarcasm is a polemical tool used by intellectual cowards.  And trolls.

Bill
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Ninja
6/6/2014 | 7:23:50 PM
Re: Sadly we do need this
@snunyc very true. I know of some people who don't pick up on sarcasm in person on a regular basis, regardless of the deadpan ability of the speaker. Sarcastic messages wouldn't penetrate unless they are accompanies by some telltale emoticon.  
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
6/6/2014 | 6:04:28 PM
Re: Sadly we do need this
@Ariella: That sarcasm font would certainly make it easier for the government to figure this out, eh?

I used to work with someone who was so great at deadpan humor that 9 times out of 10 he would fool me into believeing something he said was sincere or true--and that was in face-to-face conversations. When you take body language and tone of voice out of the equation, sarcasm in email can be a dangerous weapon--or really really funny.
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
6/6/2014 | 6:00:58 PM
Re: Sadly we do need this
@Thomas: You WIN the prize for BEST comment of the week. LOL LOL
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
6/6/2014 | 5:59:35 PM
Sarcasm at Work
This post has me thinking back on the many times I've employed sarcasm at work. And then I read some leadership material awhile back that said sarcasm is actually an expression of anger. I've always considered sarcasm to be a form of humor, not an expression of anger.So that really opened my eyes.

What do you all think? Is sarcasm just a passive agressive way to express your anger? Do you use sarcasm at work? how do you feel when others at work are sarcastic to you?
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