Microsoft’s new joke-judging A.I. is no laughing matter. On Monday, the software giant detailed the system it’s developed for the Laugh Battle exhibit at the National Comedy Center in Jamestown, New York, where visitors pair off against each other and try to make the other laugh, while face scanners detect when one person laughs.

“We are making A.I. accessible to everyone, expanding it beyond the world of developers and data scientists to every person – especially in ways that are universally understood and touch the heart,” Mitra Azizirad, corporate vice president for A.I. marketing at Microsoft, said in a statement. “Nothing does that better than laughter.”

It’s the latest in a line of artificial intelligence wins for the firm, following its declaration in August 2017 that the area is a top priority. In January, the company’s researchers detailed a system that can “imagine” new images from old ones, while in March its translate service reached human levels of accuracy between Chinese and English.

The Laugh Battle is the latest breakthrough in this area. It’s part of the over 50 interactive exhibits on display at the center, which opened on August 1 in Lucille Ball’s hometown. The exhibit features over 100 pre-scripted jokes, which players tell to each other within six rounds. The Face API, developed by Microsoft’s Azure Cognitive Services team, awards a point when a player gets their opponent to laugh. The system uses a deep neural network of over 100,000 labeled photos to judge people’s faces on scales of eight different emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, contempt, disgust, fear, neutral and surprise. It also uses facial landmarks like the corner of the lips, judging how they move during the competition.

The Laugh Battle underway.
The Laugh Battle underway.

“Across cultures, people smile the same way, they get angry the same way, they show disgust the same way,” said Cornelia Carapcea, a principal program manager on the Cognitive Services team. “If somebody is smiling or frowning, we can detect that and we give back a score for each emotion,” she explained. “It is not like we see a face and we say ‘happy,’ we see a face and say ‘oh, we think happy is maybe 60 percent.’ If the person is also doing more of a Mona Lisa smile we might have happy 60 percent and sad 40 percent.”

The non-profit museum uses technology to track the development of comedy over the years. When users arrive, they answer a series of questions about what they find funny to develop a sense of humor profile, stored on an RFID chip, that follows users around the exhibit. The Laugh Battle, located at the end of the museum, is a way of helping visitors reflect on what they’ve seen.

“It gives visitors a taste of what that thing is that comedians get so addicted to, that incredible feeling of making someone laugh,” said Journey Gunderson, executive director of the museum.