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HonestChieffan
09-04-2010, 11:07 AM
Northwestern prof defends federally funded humor grant
Thursday, September 02, 2010

http://abclocal.go.com/wls/story?section=news%2Flocal&id=7647039o

Eric Horng, ABC 7 Chicago reporter
September 2, 2010 (EVANSTON, Ill.) (WLS) -- A research professor at Northwestern University is defending a more than $700,000 stimulus grant he has received to create computer software that tells jokes.

Professor Kristian Hammond says it's serious work. But some critics say using stimulus money for this type of research is no laughing matter.

Critics say the project is simply a waste of taxpayer money. But the man behind this next-generation software say those detractors, which include Senator John McCain, have never bothered to call and ask him what his work is all about.

In a building at Northwestern in Evanston, computer sciences professor Kristian Hammond is trying to make computers funny.

"Understanding what makes humor, what makes irony, what makes interesting juxtapositions, to understand what that means we can actually create it. We can create new material," said Hammond.

It's all heady, academic stuff, but Hammond is trying to give computers intuition.

The next-generation software looks at news stories and social media, and brings words together to form original lines of thought -- a joke, if you will.

The material generated so far is not exactly killer standup material, and Hammond's critics certainly aren't laughing.

The project has received more than $700,000 in federal stimulus money. Recently, Senator McCain singled out Hammond's project, calling it a "joke machine," one of many examples, he said, of wasteful spending.

"None of them really have any meaningful impact on creating jobs," McCain said.

"You can take anything and give money out and 'create jobs,' but this is not the type of thing that leads towards long-term robust growth," said U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, (R) western suburbs.

"We have nothing but anticipation that this will actually create more and more jobs," said Hammond.

Hammond received the funding after he applied to the National Science Foundation, beating out dozens of other applicants.

"The same technology could be used to write scientific papers," said Hammond.

In fact, the project also looks at voting behavior and migration patterns.

Hammond hopes it will all lead to a smarter internet.

"We're working on a technology we think in the long run will co-opt the engines," said Hammond. "So when you communicate with a search engine, rather than telling it what you want, it infers what you want."

That's all well and good, say critics, who argue it's not exactly a "shovel ready" project, as advertised by the White House.

The funding is spread over three years, and Hammond says he is using it to hire a small staff and buy equipment.

Hammond says he never thought the project would generate this kind of attention.

(Copyright 2010 WLS-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

alpha_omega
09-04-2010, 01:16 PM
It would be interesting to know what the other projects in consideration for the funding were all about.

Saul Good
09-04-2010, 01:20 PM
It would be interesting to know what the other projects in consideration for the funding were all about.

Probably stupid stuff like oil exploration.

alnorth
09-04-2010, 02:00 PM
Probably stupid stuff like oil exploration.

Nah, it is a small college research grant intended for things the private sector would not be interested in. It would have gone to some other professor researching something else esoteric that may or may not turn up something useful someday. The oil companies have exploration covered, pouring hundreds of millions into looking for more oil.

Saul Good
09-04-2010, 03:56 PM
Nah, it is a small college research grant intended for things the private sector would not be interested in. It would have gone to some other professor researching something else esoteric that may or may not turn up something useful someday. The oil companies have exploration covered, pouring hundreds of millions into looking for more oil.

The private sector isn't interested in artificial intelligence?

alnorth
09-04-2010, 04:35 PM
The private sector isn't interested in artificial intelligence?

there's a difference between "interested in the results after the government has sunk billions of dollars in grants and military budgets into it" and "what the hell lets take a flier and risk going broke on something that might not be perfected in hundreds of years"

Saul Good
09-04-2010, 04:39 PM
there's a difference between "interested in the results after the government has sunk billions of dollars in grants and military budgets into it" and "what the hell lets take a flier and risk going broke on something that might not be perfected in hundreds of years"

Is it your contention that this is a good use of $700,000 of public money?

HonestChieffan
09-04-2010, 04:42 PM
Is it your contention that this is a good use of $700,000 of public money?

This is why the country is broke. Simply stated no matter how stupid a use of funds is, the answer is never to stop spending it, it is to point to something equally or more stupid and keep on spending.

alnorth
09-04-2010, 06:44 PM
Is it your contention that this is a good use of $700,000 of public money?

Nope, and that question had absolutely nothing to do with what we were talking about either. Plan B for this money would not have been "exploring for oil" or anything else that sounds good on the surface. This was apparently wild-ass "research weird stuff for the 1-in-100 shot that something might come of it" money. Its fine for us to spend some money on that sort of thing, but it strikes me as a silly use for "stimulus" funds. We can keep our science research grant budget, but maybe the stimulus money should go to rebuilding bridges and highways instead.

alnorth
09-04-2010, 06:47 PM
point to something equally or more stupid and keep on spending.

You got an example of that either in the story or this thread? I don't remember reading that anywhere in here.

Psyko Tek
09-04-2010, 07:08 PM
Is it your contention that this is a good use of $700,000 of public money?

it ain't bad

think about what it could do
it will make computers that can draw there own conclusions
thus putting more people out of work
(well, shit that didn't go where I wan't it to)

but in govt. money 700 k ain't shit

Psyko Tek
09-04-2010, 07:13 PM
you know what government research used to make money?

NASA

computers
materials ( including spandex )

but we have cut that
Bush had the right idea ( gawd that hurts) we need to shoot manned flights into space

alnorth
09-04-2010, 08:27 PM
it ain't bad

think about what it could do
it will make computers that can draw there own conclusions
thus putting more people out of work
(well, shit that didn't go where I wan't it to)

but in govt. money 700 k ain't shit

My problem with it is that we apparently used stimulus money for this.

We already have science-related budgets where we give small research grants out to lots of universities every year to look into stuff that may or may not help someday. These weird esoteric research projects with not-so-clear uses or payoffs can be funded too, but they should compete for the limited science dollars we can afford, they should not siphon away stimulus money.

Stimulus money is supposedly intended to jump-start the economy, provide short-term help with jobs, loans, etc. Say we decided to rebuild a crumbling bridge somewhere in Utah (for example) that was 30 years beyond its scheduled replacement date that no one ever had the money to fix up or replace. That could be a good construction job for a bunch of blue-collar guys to get them through a rough economy.

These politicians who are complaining about this are focusing on the wrong thing. Screaming about spending money on a joke machine misses the point. What, we should have spent money on research for... I dont know, childhood brain tumors instead? No! If this is supposed to be stimulus money, then spend it on stuff that will help the economy now, preferrably for the people who need the help.

Saul Good
09-04-2010, 08:54 PM
You got an example of that either in the story or this thread? I don't remember reading that anywhere in here.

How about the post you just made that it would have been spent on something else similar?

alnorth
09-04-2010, 09:11 PM
How about the post you just made that it would have been spent on something else similar?

wrong. His contention was that I was somehow defending it by basically saying "it would have been spent on something else stupid, so what the hell."

He was incorrect (and your post here was incorrect, as you should have realized by my response to you and Psyko Tek) because I was not really saying that or defending it at all, since I also disagree with how the money was spent.

I was simply correcting a false statement. You speculated that this project probably beat out something like oil exploration. I believed you were wrong. By my answer you then somehow assumed that meant I agreed with how the money was spent.

We shouldn't micro-analyze the details and why this scientific research should or should not have been funded because that misses the point. NO scientific research should have been funded AT ALL by this money because it was stimulus money. By focusing on irrelevant details we lose the bigger picture that this should not have been given to any research project no matter how useful or silly it may have been.

Saul Good
09-04-2010, 09:24 PM
wrong. His contention was that I was somehow defending it by basically saying "it would have been spent on something else stupid, so what the hell."

He was incorrect (and your post here was incorrect, as you should have realized by my response to you and Psyko Tek) because I was not really saying that or defending it at all, since I also disagree with how the money was spent.

I was simply correcting a false statement. You speculated that this project probably beat out something like oil exploration. I believed you were wrong. By my answer you then somehow assumed that meant I agreed with how the money was spent.

We shouldn't micro-analyze the details and why this scientific research should or should not have been funded because that misses the point. NO scientific research should have been funded AT ALL by this money because it was stimulus money. By focusing on irrelevant details we lose the bigger picture that this should not have been given to any research project no matter how useful or silly it may have been.

My comment about oil exploration was tongue in cheek. I'm under no illusions that the money would have gone to anything as useful as oil exploration. It also wouldn't have gone to anything that actually creates long-term job growth or even improves our infrastructure.

alnorth
09-04-2010, 10:10 PM
My comment about oil exploration was tongue in cheek. I'm under no illusions that the money would have gone to anything as useful as oil exploration. It also wouldn't have gone to anything that actually creates long-term job growth or even improves our infrastructure.

fair enough. I'd go further though by saying it shouldn't go to oil exploration either. Writing a check for 700 grand to help Shell or whoever find more oil is not an efficient use of our stimulus money.

The project in the story was a laughably stupid way to spend stimulus money, not because it went to AI research, but because we basically spent 700 grand to employ 2 research grad assistants for a couple years or so. If it is supposed to be for stimulus, I'd assume a more efficient way to employ people with that money would be something like a small business loan or infrastructure improvements.

I dont care about the scientific benefits, we have a seperate budget that projects compete for. I dont care if it is for AIDS research, stimulus money shouldn't go to research at all, let those projects follow the proper channels for that.

bevischief
09-06-2010, 05:51 PM
Have they finished Data yet?

Saul Good
09-06-2010, 06:20 PM
fair enough. I'd go further though by saying it shouldn't go to oil exploration either. Writing a check for 700 grand to help Shell or whoever find more oil is not an efficient use of our stimulus money.

Instead, we spend hundreds of billions trying to protect supplies on the other side of the planet. If we would find and extract our own oil, we wouldn't have to worry about what was going on in the ME. What's more, we could employ tens of thousands in the oil industry, boost our economy by reducing energy prices, and make ourselves safer in the process.

alnorth
09-06-2010, 06:23 PM
Instead, we spend hundreds of billions trying to protect supplies on the other side of the planet. If we would find and extract our own oil, we wouldn't have to worry about what was going on in the ME. What's more, we could employ tens of thousands in the oil industry, boost our economy by reducing energy prices, and make ourselves safer in the process.

hah, yeah right. The proven crude oil reserves available to us are almost irrelevant, especially in the context of stimulus. There is nothing short of a miracle breakthrough in green energy or a full commitment to nuclear that will break us from the ME.

Also, this is supposed to be stimulus money, not research science money, and not energy money.

Saul Good
09-06-2010, 09:06 PM
hah, yeah right. The proven crude oil reserves available to us are almost irrelevant, especially in the context of stimulus. There is nothing short of a miracle breakthrough in green energy or a full commitment to nuclear that will break us from the ME.

Also, this is supposed to be stimulus money, not research science money, and not energy money.

I completely agree. It wouldn't have been a stimulus. It's certainly not shovel ready, and thus wouldn't have fit the bill. That said, I can justify that before I can justify a lot of what, in my opinion, was wasted stimulus money.

ROYC75
09-07-2010, 03:19 PM
Awh come on, it's only $ 700,000.00 of pork.

You all like a little pork now and then, right ?