UPDATE: Conitzer's entry won the competition. "Needs Dressing" came in second place, while "I miss the screaming" placed third.
Two sharks face off in the ocean as if in conversation—one has a mannequin in its mouth.
"The doctor said it might help me quit,” reads a caption beneath this week’s cartoon captioning contest in "The New Yorker."
Vincent Conitzer, Kimberly J. Jenkins University professor of new technologies at Duke, submitted that quip, which was one of the three finalists this week. Voting is open to the public online until Feb. 19.
Conitzer said he felt drawn to the cartoon because of his three-year-old son who is going through a shark phase.
“He enjoys pretending that he and I and his sister are sharks, and we’re a little shark family,” Conitzer said. “We make sure in these stories that the sharks know that they’re not supposed to eat people.”
Although this is not the first caption he has submitted, this is the only one that has advanced to the final round.
Conitzer said he was surprised when he received an email from "The New Yorker" that he had made it as a finalist. He posted on his Facebook page, encouraging people to vote for his caption. His friends have reacted positively so far, he added.
“People on Facebook, my friends, are not going to tell me that they don’t like the caption,” he said.
Crafting a winning caption requires being concise and remembering to keep the joke relatively simple, Conitzer explained.
“It’s always hard to imagine what it looks like to somebody else once you’ve come up with it,” he said.
The other two finalists for this week’s cartoon are “I miss the screaming”—which Conitzer said he liked as well—and “needs dressing.”
Conitzer holds appointments in computer science, economics and philosophy, and his research centers around artificial intelligence. Along with Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, the Chauncey Stillman professor of practical ethics, and Jana Schaich Borg, assistant research professor in the Social Science Research Institute, he is leading a Bass Connections project about ethical frameworks in artificial intelligence programs.
Conitzer is currently attending an artificial intelligence conference in San Francisco and presenting a preliminary paper on the topic.
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Adam Beyer is a senior public policy major and is The Chronicle's Digital Strategy Team director.