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"In 1970 I found little difficulty staying 30 years ahead of the man in the street, and now I find it difficult to stay 18 months ahead of the man on the street."
- Vernor Vinge

Meson Filter  
  Provides robots with the ability to tell the difference between jokes that provide a chuckle and jokes that provide a belly laugh.  

Lester the Jester decides to test his new robot comedian Rupert.

"Hey, Rupert, tell me a joke."

Rupert's mouth opened. His voice clacked out, rising and falling like a sine wave. "On what subject, sir?"

The Rholg's mechanic leaned across his flat purple chest. "That's another gimmick - a meson filter. You said you wanted him to be able to distinguish between laugh-power in different gags so he could fit them to the audience. And price was no object. That's all you have to tell a tech. They knocked themselves out developing a gadget to do the job just right..."

From The Jester, by William Tenn.
Published by Thrilling Wonder Stories in 1951
Additional resources -

Rupert the robot comedian is also a very early example of a machine that is able to laugh - in this case, at his own jokes:

The robot, standing perfectly immobile, was clacking wildly, grinding his gears and pinging his wires as if he were coming apart.

"That's another bug the techs didn't have time to clean up. Comes from the meson filter. Near as we can figure out it's what they call an aftereffect of his capacity to distinguish between gags that are partly funny and gags that are very funny. Electronic differentiation of the grotesque, as it says in the specifications - in man, a sense of humor. 'Course in a robot, it only means there's a kink in the exhaust."

Compare to Mycroft Holmes, the computer humorist from Robert Heinlein's 1966 novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Jester
  More Ideas and Technology by William Tenn
  Tech news articles related to The Jester
  Tech news articles related to works by William Tenn

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