So, the US Secret Service has issued a requirement for software that can detect sarcasm in tweets. And lo, there was much rejoicing in the land, especially among post-doc researchers looking for grant money to pursue research in algorithmic applications of semiotics with a side-line in heuristic knowledge processing and associative networks. And Agent Smith scowled furiously, and was perplexed.
Background: the US Secret Service has two main jobs (three, if you include persecuting Role Playing Game companies, but let's leave Steve Jackson out of this for the time being): combating currency counterfeiting, and protecting the President Of The United States, an office that for some reason seems to attract the armed attentions of the deranged, damaged, and just plain homicidal the way my wardrobe attracts moths. Traditionally, the job of protecting the POTUS could be made a good deal simpler by (a) listening for lunatics with guns uttering death threats, and (b) sending a couple of nice fellows in dark suits and dark glasses to have a polite conversation with the aforementioned lunatic and convey the impression that their displeasure would be made extremely clear should words ever be translated into deeds. But then the Internet happened, and it just so happened to coincide with a flowering of highly politicized and canalized news media channels such that at any given time, whoever is POTUS, around 10% of the US population are convinced that they're a baby-eating lizard-alien in a fleshsuit who is plotting to bring about the downfall of civilization, rather than a middle-aged male politician in a business suit.
Well now, here's the thing: automating sarcasm detection is easy. It's so easy they teach it in first year computer science courses; it's an obvious application of AI. (You just get your Turing-test-passing AI that understands all the shared assumptions and social conventions that human-human conversation rely on to identify those statements that explicitly contradict beliefs that the conversationalist implicitly holds. So if I say "it's easy to earn a living as a novelist" and the AI knows that most novelists don't believe this and that I am a member of the set of all novelists, the AI can infer that I am being sarcastic. Or I'm an outlier. Or I'm trying to impress a date. Or I'm secretly plotting to assassinate the POTUS.)
Of course, we in the real world know that shaved apes like us never saw a system we didn't want to game. So in the event that sarcasm detectors ever get a false positive rate of less than 99% (or a false negative rate of less than 1%) I predict that everybody will start deploying sarcasm as a standard conversational gambit on the internet. Trolling the secret service will become a competitive sport, the goal being to not receive a visit from the SS in response to your totally serious threat to kill the resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Al Qaida terrrrst training camps will hold tutorials on metonymy, aggressive irony, cynical detachment, and sarcasm as a camouflage tactic for suicide bombers. Post-modernist pranks will draw down the full might of law enforcement by mistake, while actual death threats go encoded as LOLCat macros. Any attempt to algorithmically detect sarcasm will fail because sarcasm is self-referential and the awareness that a sarcasm detector may be in use will change the intent behind the message.
Indeed, a successful sarcasm detector implies not only an eerily functional human consciousness emulation and a metric fuckton of encoded knowledge about human cultural relationships, but the ability to engage in primate social interaction with sufficient agility to tell when a primate means something, and when a primate is signalling an implicit negation of meaning. Which in turn means the sarcasm detector requires a theory of mind. Hello, singularity! And while I'm at it, can I have a pony? And the moon on a stick, too. KTHX.
I give it thirty years and a $10Bn budget, tops. Then POTUS can sleep easy, knowing that the Secret Service are onto those pesky sarcastic twitterers who think it's funny to waste their time by cracking jokes about a very un-jokeworthy subject. (Hey, did you hear the one about the convention for presidential assassins ...? No? Me neither. Okay: how about, how many presidential assassins does it take to change a lightbulb?)
Or they could just ban sarcasm on the internet.
Yes, I really think that could work.