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Wanna Hear A Joke? This Nifty Little Robot's Got A Few - And It Can Tell If You're Interested

Are there any comedians in the audience? I've got a bit of bad news for you, ladies and gents. Yours is the latest profession to be potentially threatened by the robot revolution. Don't believe me? Read on. 

One of the more significant challenges in the field of human-computer interaction lies in equipping artificial intelligence to recognize and respond to human behavior. Although robots are perfectly capable of imitating human emotion, many of them still haven't quite gotten the nuances of conversation entirely down-pat. Today, Japanese engineering and electronics corporation Hitachi may well have made a breakthrough in that regard. 

They've designed a robot that has its own sense of humor - and the capacity to understand when someone else doesn't share it. 

The red-and-white prototype is known as The Excellent Mobility And Interactive Existence As A Workmate Robot; abbreviated to EMIEW2 (pronounced Emu Two). Uhh...that's...quite the name.

Anyway, EMIEW2 stands at 80 centimeters - no taller than a small child -and is equipped with a pair of roller skates that allow it to quickly move around (though I'd imagine it doesn't do so well with stairs). The robot, claims Hitachi, is programmed to recognize key words in a sentence - such as "how many" - in order to discern what sort of question it's being asked. 

The little 'bot is further programmed to understand a wide range of human responses, including verbal signs such as shrugs or nods. This comprehension forms the core of EMIEW2's ability to carry on a conversation (and allows it to work out whether or not the person it's talking to understood one of its jokes). It demonstrated this ability at its unveiling in Tokyo, where it answered a question about the number of people at Hitachi's lab in a rather peculiar fashion.

"We have two swans." 

Naturally, the person asking the question looked a little confused, and after a short pause, the robot piped up.

"You got it? I'm kidding, we have about 800 people working here," it chirped. 

Okay, so maybe EMIEW2's sense of humor needs...a lot of work. But the mere fact that it's capable of carrying on a conversation (and recognizing whether or not its conversational partner is checked out) is impressive enough on its own. He can always pull out the A-list material later, right? 

"The new technology makes it possible for a robot to understand what a human means, even if they gesture," explained Hitachi's Hisashi Ikeda, who admits that the robot's sense of humor could use a bit of refinement. 

Ultimately, Hitachi hopes to have EMIEW2 provide companionship or company to people, serving as a house-pet or even a receptionist or caregiver. Let's hope they improve its repertoire of jokes a little bit before it enters into any of those roles. Charming as it is, I can't really see EMIEW2 catching on anytime soon unless they make it a little...well, funnier.

Okay, so I guess EMIEW's no immediate threat to all the comics out there. But it eventually could be, right?