Everywhere you look on social media, there seems to be a spark that boils over into a raging argument, igniting comment threads across the web with repugnant manifestos of mockery and depraved attitudes. Behind the veil of anonymity, the internet can quickly become like a digitized bathroom stall, scribbled over with trash talk that renders any attempt at conversation or healthy, constructive debate impossible.

By our very nature, we’re a social species. As such, our communication quickly falls apart when we extract vital tools from the process. In a digital environment, we’re not physically present with one another. When so much of how we communicate depends upon our facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice, problems of miscommunication can, and will, arise.

For individuals with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, communication is an even bigger challenge. Fortunately, advances in technology have begun to bring the one thing to social media interaction that has been severely lacking, and that’s some good old-fashioned context. Thanks to the efforts of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management, a system for detecting and interpreting sarcasm within written text has been developed by graduate student Lotam Peled.

The system, dubbed Sarcasm Sentimental Interpretation GeNerator, or Sarcasm SIGN, is based on the concept of machine translation, wherein which sarcastic sentences can be turned into honest, non-sarcastic sentences. According to Peled, this technology will ideally be capable of helping “people with autism and Asperger’s, who have difficulty interpreting sarcasm, irony and humor.”

Due to its scientific significance and commercial potential, the ability to automatically identify and analyze human sentiment in text and through social media interaction is a complex but worthwhile challenge. In the long run, it could revolutionize online communication by, ironically, bringing it back into a realm of the humane, where context and honesty can help to prevent breakdowns in communication, improving our interactions with one another while we continue to roam the frontiers of social media.

This story, originally featured in Science Daily, can be found here.

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