The Company Making A.I. Funny

September 12, 2018

By Max Godnick

Alexa, be funnier.

That's the directive Amazon seems to want its tech to follow with its investment in Botnik, a studio that uses predictive text algorithms to make original comedic content with remixed language.

"I think that Alexa would be wise to use as much of our technology as she can," founder and CEO, Jamie Brew said Wednesday in an interview on Cheddar.

The concept for Botnik is based on that of a smartphone's auto-fill feature: using software to predict what users might want to type next.

Brew said that he noticed phones were only using the software in a "really narrow context," limited to the dry syntax typically used in texts and e-mails.

"What if you could do that for everything, and what if you can do that for art?" he asked.

So, instead of anticipating a texter's conversation, Botnik synthesizes certain primary sources ー "Seinfeld" scripts, Tinder profiles and even "Fortnite" ー and issues recommendations to its team of in-house human writers. In this case, the human element is just as important as the mechanical one.

"The creations of our writers and users are the result of people collaborating with machines, not machines running on their own," Brew said in an email to Cheddar.

Brew ー formerly of The Onion and its provocative, Buzzfeed-esque offshoot ClickHole ー and his team just released its first music video, with lyrics entirely based on Morrissey songs and Amazon reviews for the fitness program "P90X." The humans at Botnik selected which predicted lyrics were funniest, and then composed an original melody.

"We saw that these were two of the best text sources that we could find in the entire world," Brew said.

The unlikely pairing generated wistful lyrical gems like: "Will I be a wonderful shape after completing P90X?" and "I've gotten bored with this desire to get ripped."

Botnik Studios even worked its magic on Cheddar's own content. After analyzing the transcripts of a week's worth of our news scripts, Brew and his collaborators (both human and machine) shared a warped take on the news.

Brew said that Botnik Studios is not working on any Alexa-specific collaborations at the moment, but his still-young company expects to have "all sorts of" partnerships in the future.

For full interview click here.