American government seeks sarcasm-busting software. That'll work

Downtime spies an opportunity for British software developers. Our American cousins want help telling when we’re taking the mickey on Twitter, the poor things.

According to the Washington Post a tender from the US secret service went out earlier this week on the Federal Business Opportunities website, looking for a software system to analyse social media.

A small part of this program, says the Post, must include the ability to detect sarcasm and false positives.

There are many, including a good number of us at Computer Weekly, who baulk at the very thought of giving American intelligence services even more power than they already abuse.

But, all thoughts of sarcasm aside, we can see an upside to this.

Consider the case of the accountant who lost his job and was forced through a lengthy and farcical trial after he posted a joke on Twitter in which he threatened to take out his frustrations on a small airport.

Or the Irishman who was held at Los Angeles airport for 12 hours and deported after agents read the term ‘destroy America’  in the sense of ‘get very drunk in America’ to mean ‘actually destroy America.’

Sarcastic software saves time, money and embarrassing PR screw ups.

The Post reports that the effort is unlikely to get off the ground as software systems are not yet advanced enough to fully grasp the various nuances of language or rapidly evolving slang terms, not to mention the sometimes yawning gaps between British and American English.

So we can rest easy knowing that for the time being, the security services probably won’t be subjecting our finely-crafted online quips to the Sarcasmotron 3000, and nor will we be dragged from our beds in the dead of night by elite Navy SEALs after drunkenly live-tweeting Question Time [Speak for yourself! Ed.]

Right. I’ll just stick this column online. Hope those sub-editors get their act together, or I’m blowing their Macs sky high! [You’re fired.]