Sometimes it's too easy to poke fun at ludicrous-sounding research projects lavishly endowed with federal stimulus funds. Senator John McCain did so recently with his report, "100 Stimulus Projects that Give Taxpayers the Blues." The list, which generally irked researchers, compiles often humorous anecdotes about seemingly bizarre projects that are a "waste" of taxpayer dollars. One of the most visible of those research projects was dubbed, "the joke machine."

In an Chicago Sun-Times article, staff writer Mark Konkol checks in on the now-famous researcher, Kristian Hammond, who's hard at work completing search programs that "lead to interesting, factual juxtapositions of ideas that lead to a humorous outcome" (i.e. the joke machine).  According to McCain's report, the program uses $712,883 of grant money to employ a band of grad-student programmers dedicated to developing "machine-generated humor." The idea behind the project is to create software mimicking the way humans think in order to supplant search technology. Here's how the project is progressing:

So far, Hammond's group has dozens of programs in development, and they've filed intellectual property patent applications for some of their work. The three-year stimulus grant funds four full-time jobs, pays for equipment and provides tuition and small stipends to two graduate assistants.
And why it's not as outlandish as it appears on first glance:
The goal is to teach a computer to find information based on what you are working on, where you are located and what you're reading, among other things, without even having to ask for it. And one day, Hammond says, that type of automated content generation will replace modern search engines.