Comedians Jerry Seinfeld, left, and Larry David share a laugh while taking in a quarterfinal match between Venus Williams and Jelena Jankovic. (Photographer: Rick Maiman/Bloomberg News_  

Heard the One About the Robot Comedian?

(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- Botnik is creating an unusual predictive keyboard—suggesting words based on what’s been typed—to generate everything from scripts for new episodes of Seinfeld to funny Valentine’s Day recipes. The results are by design weird as hell.

The Benefit

Art created by artificial intelligence has become a reliable success in the finicky world of viral content, resulting in everything from eerie cat drawings to dadaist punk music. Botnik’s interactive keyboards let anyone create surreal rearrangements of familiar words.

Innovators

Jamie Brew, 27, is the former head writer of the Onion’s sister site ClickHole, and Bob Mankoff, 74, is the humor editor at Esquire.

Origin

At the New Yorker, Mankoff created the caption contest, spawning a huge data set mined by Google. This piqued his interest in AI, and he got in touch with Brew, who’d been exploring the topic by sending texts on the iPhone’s predictive keyboard. Botnik made its debut in 2016, then landed a $100,000 contract from Amazon.com Inc. to help make its Alexa AI assistant sound more human.

Deployment

Comedy writers, programmers, and designers collaborate on a workplace chat service, leading to viral hits such as a fake banner for the Coachella festival (headliners include Lil Hack and Horse Choir).

Goal

Ultimately, Brew looks at the content created by the broader Botnik community as advertisements for the real product: the virtual keyboards themselves, which roughly 1,000 people per day play around on. Two full-time programmers have been working on a broader platform evolved from the keyboards, to be unveiled this summer. Eventually, Brew and Mankoff hope to charge for access to the platform.

The Verdict

Mankoff and Brew look at Botnik as an agent for creativity, flying in the face of other utopian ideas about AI. The goal isn’t to automate writing, they say, but to collaborate with AI to make strange new forms of it. “Humans need to be part of it,” Mankoff says. 

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.