Your report (Scientists try to teach robot to laugh at the right time, 15 September) reminded me of Sir Alan Ayckbourn’s 1998 play Comic Potential. Except that in the play, the robot did not need to be taught to laugh.
Set in the not too distant future, Comic Potential foresees TV soaps acted by AI robots. As the play opens, just such a TV programme – a hospital soap – is in progress. But in the studio where it is being recorded, the robots are malfunctioning and the action spirals into chaos.
The human overseer, desperately trying to restore order, is startled (as were we) to hear one of the AI nurses break into a fit of the giggles, because the action has become so very funny. It appears that this robot has developed at least one human trait. Does she have any more? Sir Alan develops the theme: if she has a sense of humour, what other human traits, emotions even, does she have?
It is a very perceptive play, exploring the possibilities and possible difficulties, given that she is a mechanical construct. Perhaps a revival would be timely? That enchanting giggle was the merriest sound I have ever heard in a theatre, and belonged to Janie Dee.
Sherburn in Elmet, North Yorkshire
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