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Beware of 'Sarcasm': Artificial Intelligence will chase you!
Being an engineer, I had never imagined the any one of my tribe would one day try to grapple with the word 'sarcasm' and study how to identify it in the social media.

Very laudable indeed, for the social media has become unbearably fake and toxic! Thereby spawning hatred through abuse, derision and slander!

Yesterday's newspaper carried a story, that the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay along with Australia's Monash University is 'training artificial intelligence to detect and generate sarcastic comments'. 

Prof Pushpak Bhattacharya says, "Sarcasm is an attack in disguise. Negative statements are not as hurtful as sarcastic statements. Sarcasm comprises both positive and negative words: like 'I love being ignored'!

"When users generate content on social media, there is a lot of creativity. It is always difficult to detect sarcasm because the meaning of the expression is not the sum of the individual meanings of the words," said Vasudeva Varma, professor and dean (research), IIIT-H. "Computer algorithms find it hard to detect the anomaly in the juxtaposition of the words." 

We can only wish Godspeed to the word analysts, scientists and engineers engaged in the noble task they have taken in hand; to detoxify the social media. The news item nevertheless has driven me into a pensive mood. And some thoughts jostling in my mind are jotted below:

Often, I am not able to distinguish between being plain witty or being sarcastic or both. The most elegant example being the following:

When Mahatma Gandhi landed in England for a Round Table conference, an uppity British journalist asked him –

'Mr. G'andy, what do you think of the Western civilisation?

'That would be a good idea', coolly retorted the Mahatma.

With such a short innocuous sentence, the Mahatma slammed it big on the colonising West!

Another example is often attributed to Winston Churchill, the master of repartee. It would have been unparliamentary in the House of Lords, to call anyone a liar. So he put it thus: 'The Honourable Member is being economical with truth'!

Some wits have spoken thus:

-  "I love sarcasm. It's like punching people in the face, but with words."

-  "Sarcasm – the ability to insult idiots, without them realizing it."

-  "Sarcasm is the secret language that everyone uses when they want to say something mean to your face."

Particularly unkind is this from the unpredictable Grouch Marx:

-  'Marriage is the chief cause of divorce'.

Abraham Lincoln, even when he was the President of USA, used to polish his own shoes. His lifelong rival in politics once barged into White House, where he saw Lincoln polishing his shoes. Always out to embarrass him, he asked Abe, 'What Mister President, you polish your own shoes'?

'Yes', came the cool response. 'Whose shoes do you polish?'

According to Iyad Rahwan, associate professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 'Artificial Intelligence systems were 82 per cent accurate at identifying sarcasm correctly, compared with an average score of 76 per cent for the human volunteers'.

'In order to both create and comprehend sarcasm, you need immense brainpower to understand the contradiction between a statement's literal and intended meaning. It also often entails incredibly intricate thought processes and the introduction of novelty and humour. Converse to Oscar Wilde's proclamation that sarcasm is "the lowest form of wit," researchers from the Harvard Business School have said it is "the highest form of intelligence," linking it with increased creativity. The most effective sarcasm is also often the most obscure: If it doesn't make the listener puzzle at least briefly, it's often not worth the bother'.

That there is a sense of urgency in this aspect of Artificial Intelligence, can be judged by the fact that in June 2014, the United States Secret Service requested bids for software that would identify sarcasm in tweets.

'The Emperor's New Clothes': In school all of us must have read this story by Hans Christian Andersen, the popular Danish writer of fairy tales. Two crafty weavers come to a pompous Emperor and promised to weave him a suit of cloth so fine, that no unworthy, stupid or incompetent person would be able to see it. Except those who were worthy of it! In fact, they wove no cloth and tailored no suit.

When the emperor went out in a stately procession, to show off his new robes, he was really stark naked! The populace cheered and nobody dared to be seen as unworthy. Finally, a small child in the crowd cried out and spoke the truth, 'But the emperor is not wearing any clothes, at all'!

Seeing our own pompous netas of today, who have nothing show to the public except their arrogance, the child in me yearns to cry out:

'But, the emperor is wearing no clothes'!

Is this sarcasm or despair?

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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