scorecardresearch Skip to main content

First, he wrote a book with Lin-Manuel Miranda. Next, an art exhibit in Cambridge that will tell you if you’re funny

Illustrator, Twitter personality, and MIT PhD candidate Jonny Sun has an new interactive exhibit at the Cambridge Public Library.Wesley Taylor

Between moonlighting as a Twitter comedian, collaborating with “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda on a new book, and making appearances on late-night television, Jonny Sun somehow found time to create an interactive art installation that’s debuting in Cambridge this month.

How, exactly?

With the help of what he called a “great” team of people and a bit of multitasking.

On Nov. 16, Sun, a doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — and author of “Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too” — will unveil “The Laughing Room” at Cambridge Public Library, an immersive project that examines the intersection of art, technology, and privacy.


“It has been one of the projects that I’ve been kind of juggling and doing on the side,” said Sun, an affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard and researcher at the Harvard metaLAB.

Sun, who recently released “Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You” with Miranda, has been working on “The Laughing Room” for more than a year while pursuing his PhD.

When it opens, the project will feature a space at the city’s main library branch on Broadway that’s designed to look like a living room set from a television sitcom — lighting and all.

Inside of the room will be a configuration of microphones and speakers that are hooked up to a machine-learning algorithm created using stand-up comedy performances from YouTube, according to project details.

The public will be invited to step into the “artificially intelligent” room and have casual conversations, or tell jokes and fire off one-liners.

The algorithm will parse through what’s being said and then react to the voices by playing a “laugh track” — but only if it’s “laugh-track worthy,” Sun said.


“You could say anything,” he said. “And part of the fun for us is seeing how people will react to it and respond to it, and seeing what people will try out.”

Meanwhile, everything happening inside “The Laughing Room” will be recorded and livestreamed to a separate space — called “The Control Room” — at MIT’s Hayden Library. There, a series of large screens will broadcast the audio and video in different formats.

Sun said people will also be able to follow along with the comedic action by watching it on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other social media platforms.

“I’ve always been interested in the way people’s interactions with each other change if they know they’re being listened to,” Sun said. “That’s definitely the most exciting to understand — the social dynamics at play when you put people in a space like this.”

The concept for “The Laughing Room” was born from the metaLAB(at)Harvard, which experiments “in the networked arts and humanities,” and MIT professor Stephanie Frampton’s ARTificial Intelligence group, a collaborative effort between MIT Libraries and the Cambridge Public Library.

It was pulled together with the help of Hannah Davis, a programmer, developer, and artist, and Christopher Sun, a project manager who supervised everything.

The space will be open to the public at specific times from Nov. 16 to 18, according to event details.

It will mark the initial deployment of the interactive work, and if everything goes well, Sun said, he hopes to bring it to a wider audience.


“I want to see it have legs,” he said. “I’d love to keep putting it up in places and have it see a bunch of different people in different locations.”

Steve Annear can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.