Geekend: Sarcasm Detector Wanted

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

David Wagner, Executive Editor, Community & IT Life

June 6, 2014

3 Min Read

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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About the Author(s)

David Wagner

Executive Editor, Community & IT Life

David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, leadership, and innovation. He has also been a freelance writer for many top consulting firms and academics in the business and technology sectors. Born in Silver Spring, Md., he grew up doodling on the back of used punch cards from the data center his father ran for over 25 years. In his spare time, he loses golf balls (and occasionally puts one in a hole), posts too often on Facebook, and teaches his two kids to take the zombie apocalypse just a little too seriously. 

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