Hello, we’re Justin and Allison.
We’re the hosts of Robots on Typewriters, a new podcast all about computer-generated and computer-assisted comedy. On Robots on Typewriters, we love to laugh about the wild, weird, and sometimes all too human things that come out of random generation, artificial intelligence, and automation. And because the world needs more of that stuff, we always try to make some of our own artificial humor as well.
Who would make such a podcast? Let us introduce ourselves.
Justin is a graduate student at University College Dublin where he’s researching conversation agent interactions (talking to Alexa and Siri) and interruptions in those interactions. Justin has been laughing at computers for most of his life, starting by delighting in the procedurally generated names of rookies in sports video games throughout his childhood. He started laughing at computers in a more professional setting during his junior year of college when he took his first human-computer interaction class and started researching multitasking behaviors during computer use. Professionally, he hopes to be an industry researcher that laughs at conversation agents for the foreseeable future. His favorite part about making Robots on Typewriters is, inexplicably, formatting datasets and feeding them to neural networks. What a nerd.
Allison is a writer and otherwise general media creator who works at home full-time and therefore craves the company of computers and the internet to stay sane. Though she’s a little less academically qualified than Justin when it comes to laughing at computers and maybe doesn’t quite get how it all works, she sure gets why it’s so funny. As a child who skirted the edges of mid-2000s internet culture, she’s come a long way from thinking how hilarious it is to be “so random” and yell “Waffles!” in a room of friends. Now that she understands real comedy, she knows it’s much funnier to click through a Random Food Generator on RandomLists.com and contemplate the absurdity of a meal consisting of only parsley and condensed milk.
The idea for this podcast goes back several years to a night when we found ourselves weeping with laughter, having hijacked Justin’s sister’s phone to text her unwitting friends nonsense messages using her predictive text. Ever since, our interest in comedy and art that utilizes things like procedural generation and other bits of AI has grown exponentially. There is something so endearing about a neural network doing its best to produce a list of plausible band names but turning out results that include “Stritty Landy Halking Mobil Radpian” and “Tamont Clirf.” It’s doing its best.
Randomization perpetrated by a computer adds an element of absurdism to comedy that we can’t trust our own overthinking human brains with. The results of a simple random generator are so pure and thoughtless. We think of those generators, those neural nets, those algorithms as our unseen collaborators who are truly the heart of our podcast. Neither of us are trained comedians and we’re not the most gifted improvisers. Why wouldn’t we hand that hard work off to computers like the millenials we are?
Our show consists of two segments (both named using random word generators): the Zesty Hat and the Trashy Toy.
In our Zesty Hat, one of us presents something interesting or hilarious that we recently found around the net, including things like Twitter bots, blog posts about neural networks, and we even did a mini-feature on ProcJam 2018, showcasing some of our favorite submissions! Inevitably, we end up following more robots than people on social media and exposing each other to our new favorite synthetic personalities on the internet.
For the Trashy Toy, one of us devises a game for the other involving all sorts of computer generated content. Our Trashiest of Toys have seen us attempt the following:
Telling the difference between real college mascots and a neural network’s new proposals
Beating IBM’s Watson in a high-octane cooking challenge
Sorting real Lil Pump lyrics from a predictive keyboard’s version
And if you listen to the very end each week, you’ll often hear something a little extra we like to call the Least Significant Bit.
Robots on Typewriters is available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and at batcamp.org. If it piques your interest, please listen, subscribe, and connect with us on social media!