By Marjory Inglis
WHEN YOU can’t talk and have difficulty walking due to severe cerebral palsy, there’s not a lot to laugh about.
disabled children are discovering the pleasure of appalling jokes,
thanks to the efforts of Dundee University computer experts and their
children, whose disabilities leave them speechless, have been given “a
language playground” that has them cracking up while cracking jokes.
at Dundee University’s school of computing, working with colleagues in
the universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh, have developed
sophisticated software that uses a massive database of words and their
synonyms to create a joke machine.
University researcher Dr Annalu Waller explained that the machine makes
up its own puns. The jokes are not pre- programmed by the researchers
but result from topic words chosen by the child operating the system
that gives a voice output, Stephen Hawking style.
When they discover a joke they like they can save it in the system and reproduce it again and again at the touch of a screen.
“The computer itself is making up the jokes and some of them are terrible!” said Dr Waller.
Her own “favourite” produced by the joke machine is “What do you call a spicy missile?” “A hot shot.”
She said that children playing with words often find things hilarious that fail to amuse adults.
what makes something funny is part of a child’s development, an
opportunity that non-speaking disabled children are often denied.
chance to play with the system has opened up a whole new world of
laughter for non-speaking children and gives them the opportunity to
prompt laughter in their friends and family by “telling” a joke.
can just see their whole faces light up,” said Dr Waller. “They are
controlling the conversation. It is just absolutely brilliant. We have
developed a language playground for children who cannot speak.”
week teachers and therapists from all over the UK who work with
disabled children will attend a workshop in Dundee University where the
technology will be on show and telling jokes.
team hopes to get further funding when current funding from the
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council runs out later this