The Shmooze

Sarcasm Software Is Dead Serious

By Nathan Jeffay

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If there’s one thing that Israelis don’t get, it’s sarcasm. Try being sarcastic, whether in English or in Hebrew, and more often than not it falls flat, sometimes leading to embarrassing misunderstandings.

Ironic, then, that Israeli academics have just made a breakthrough that will help the world know when somebody is being sarcastic. Hebrew University researchers have just developed an algorithm that can analyze text and determine whether the writer is being serious or sarcastic.

“In many cases, sarcasm is difficult even for people to recognize,” the lead researcher, Ari Rappoport, told New Scientist magazine.

The main use for the algorithm will be for marketers who want to keep track of what online reviewers are writing about their products. But hopefully the scientists will also make an application for mobile devices that people like me — non-Israelis living in Israel — can give to friends to use when talking to us. Whenever they’re unsure if we’re being serious, they can just type in what we said.

So how big an innovation is this? In the New Scientist article, Lillian Lee, a natural language processing expert at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., described the new technology as “very exciting.”

Was she being serious?


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