The Laughing Room

Date: 2018
Location: Cambridge, MA

The Laughing Room
November 16–18, 2018

An interactive multimedia installation by Jonny Sun, in collaboration with Hannah Davis and Christopher Sun. Research assistant: Nikhil Dharmaraj.

Created at metaLAB(at)Harvard and Prof. Stephanie Frampton’s ARTificial Intelligence group at MIT.

Funded by metaLAB(at)Harvard, the MIT De Florez Fund for Humor, the Council of the Arts at MIT, and the MIT Center For Art, Science & Technology. Supported by MIT FX and High Output, Inc. Sponsored by the Cambridge Public Library and MIT Libraries.


The Boston Globe
Boston Magazine
The Harvard Gazette
Harker News

1/THE LAUGHING ROOM is an interactive art installation in which participants enter an artificially intelligent room, designed to resemble a sitcom set, that plays a laugh track whenever the participants say something that the room’s algorithm deems to be worth laughing with.

The Laughing Room is connected to a machine learning algorithm trained on large dataset of audio transcripts of stand-up comedians. The algorithm will determine the patterns that precede laughter, and then react accordingly to the voices of the live participants.

Participants will spend time in the room learning how to “perform” to the room, and reacting to the emotional response that the room provides. The piece will also be recorded and live-streamed via video camera and audio to THE CONTROL ROOM, hosted in parallel at the MIT Libraries.

The project addresses the increasing social and cultural roles of responsive technologies in public and private spaces, users’ agency within and their dependence on these emerging emotional-social technologies, and the implicit questions of privacy involved in these systems. It also aims to address the ubiquity of emotionally manipulative online algorithms and platforms creating a translation of such an algorithm into a real world space.

2/THE CONTROL ROOM is the companion installation to The Laughing Room. It is an interactive installation that features several screens showing different views of The Laughing Room, including real-time streaming video and audio of the exhibit itself, as well as live-streams from social media feeds such as Periscope/Twitter, Instagram Live, and Facebook Live.

The Control Room’s live-stream videos will be available for public online viewing when The Laughing Room is open, and are accessible at the following links: 
Periscope / Instagram / Youtube / Facebook / Twitch


1/THE LAUGHING ROOM will be installed at the Cambridge Public Library, Main Branch at 449 Broadway, Cambridge, MA.

It will be open during the following times:

Friday, November 16, 2.00p–5.00p
Saturday, November 17, 9.00a–5.00p
Sunday, November 18, 1.00p–3.00p

2/THE CONTROL ROOM will be installed at the MIT Hayden Library (14S-100) at 160 Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA.

It will be open during regular library hours. During times when the Cambridge Public Library is closed, The Control Room will feature previously recorded videos (reruns) of The Laughing Room performances. 


Friday, November 16, 4.00p–5.00p
Opening Reception at the Cambridge Public Library.

Saturday, November 17, 12.00–3.00p
Complimentary shuttle buses will run between The Laughing Room (Cambridge Public Library) and The Control Room (MIT Hayden Library).

Saturday, November 17, 3.00p–4.00p
Artists’ “Talk Back” with Jonny Sun and friends at the MIT Hayden Library (14S-100).


Jonny Sun is the author and illustrator of everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too (Harper Perennial, 2017), the New York Times best-selling illustrator of Gmorning, Gnight! by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Random House, 2018), and three forthcoming books. He is currently a writer for the Netflix Original Series BoJack Horseman. Named one of Time’s 25 Most Influential People on the Internet of 2017, Sun is currently a doctoral candidate at MIT, an affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, and a creative researcher at the metaLAB at Harvard, where he studies social media, virtual place, and online identity. As a playwright, his work has been performed at the Yale School of Drama, Factory Theater in Toronto, and Hart House Theater. As an artist and illustrator, his work has been exhibited at MIT, the Yale School of Architecture, New Haven ArtSpace, and the University of Toronto. He previously studied as an architect (M.Arch., Yale) and engineer (B.A.Sc., University of Toronto). He is the creator of @tinycarebot and the co-creator of the MIT Humor Series. His comedic work has appeared on NPR and in Time, BuzzFeed, GQ, and McSweeney’s, and he has been profiled in The New York Times Magazine. His work can be found at and @jonnysun on Twitter.

Hannah Davis is a programmer and generative musician. Her work falls along the lines of music generation, data sonification, artificial intelligence, and sentiment analysis. For a few years now she has been working on an algorithm called TransProse, which identifies emotions in a piece of text and translates it into a musical piece with a similar emotional tone. A human-computer collaboration, where she analyzed the sentiment of articles talking about technology over time, was recently performed by an orchestra at The Louvre. Hannah is currently working on creating unique datasets for art and machine learning, and is also working on a project to generatively score films. Through her work on emotions in AI, she’s become particularly interested in the idea of “subjective data” and has recently started further research into this area. She is a 2017 AI Grant recipient. Her work can be found at and

Christopher Sun is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Toronto studying Industrial Engineering. His work combines operations research, machine learning, and public health to develop innovative artificial intelligence frameworks to improve prehopsital interventions to treat out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. Christopher’s work has been recognized by numerous institutions and is a recipient of a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship (2017), as well as an American Heart Association Young Investigator Award (2016). His research on the optimization of automated external defibrillator placements has appeared on Global News TV, Huffington Post, Globe and Mail, and CBC. Christopher has been a strong proponent of art in engineering, and vice versa, a means to inspire unique perspectives that revolutionize traditional practices. His work has been exhibited at the University of Toronto and Hart House Theatre. He has been awarded the L.E. (Ted) Jones Award of Distinction and Student Engagement in the Arts Award for his contributions towards promoting the arts in the engineering.

Nikhil Dharmaraj is a senior at The Harker School in sunny San Jose, California. As a student, he is fascinated by the academic space lying at the intersection of technology and the humanities. An avid software developer, Nikhil has pursued computer science through post-AP coursework, iOS hackathons, extra-curricular courses, the USA Computing Olympiad, and summer internships at MIT and Carnegie Mellon. However, as a passionate proponent of interdisciplinary study, Nikhil has delved deeply into the humanities as well. For the past six years, he has been nationally ranked in Original Oratory (a competitive speech event within NSDA) and energetically leads his speech team as Captain. And, as a member of CAJCL (California Junior Classical League), he has excelled in the classics, serving as vice president of his school’s chapter, and is currently researching the Roman roots of evolutionary theory under the Mitra Family Grant in the Humanities. Outside of school, Nikhil is a co-founder of 501 Ventures and inCSpire, two non-profit organizations dedicated to educational equity in the Bay Area. In his free time, Nikhil enjoys playing the tenor saxophone, learning Dhol (a folk Indian percussion instrument), baking, skiing, and playing with his dog.

Sarah Newman is a Creative Researcher at metaLAB at Harvard, and a Fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. As a researcher expressing ideas through installation art, her work engages with technology’s role in culture. Newman holds a BA in Philosophy from Washington University in St. Louis and an MFA in Imaging Arts from the Rochester Institute of Technology. She has exhibited work in New York, San Francisco, Miami, Chicago, Berlin, and Rome, and has held artist residencies in Germany and Sweden. Newman is a 2017 AI Grant Fellow, a member of the 2018 Assembly Cohort, and leads metaLAB’s ongoing initiative that explores the intersections of AI and human experience. Her current work explores social and philosophical dimensions of artificial intelligence, using interactive art as a means of critique and public engagement.

Matthew Battles is associate director of metaLAB at Harvard, where he develops design interventions, media provocations, and technology projects in collaboration with a team of architects, web designers, scholars and artists. Matthew has written about the cultural dimensions of science and technology for such venues as The American Scholar, The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, Harper’s Magazine, and The New York Times. His book Library: an Unquiet History (W. W. Norton) is available in eight languages worldwide and has been in print since 2003, and he is coauthor, with Jeffrey Schnapp, of The Library Beyond the Book (Harvard 2014). His newest book, a material and cultural history of writing entitled Palimpsest: A History of the Written Word, appeared in 2015 under the Norton imprint.

Stephanie Frampton, Associate Professor of Literature at MIT, is a classicist, comparatist and historian of media in antiquity. Her work explores the intersections of material and literary culture in the ancient Mediterranean and the classical tradition, focusing on the histories of books, reading, writing and scholarly practice. She has published on a wide range of topics in this area, from graffiti in the city of Herculaneum to the history of studium from antiquity to the Renaissance and on Roman authors including Cicero and Ovid. Frampton joined the MIT faculty in fall 2012, having taught previously in the Classics at the College of the Holy Cross and at Harvard University. She has received numerous awards, including fellowships from the American Academy in Rome, the Andrew Mellon Foundation and the Rare Books School of the University of Virginia, the Loeb Classical Library Foundation and the University of Cincinnati. She is currently the president of the Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography at the Rare Book School, University of Virginia.

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