May 21, 2019

The Spooky Side of Machine Learning

“When it comes to machine learning, things can get a little spooky: We know an algorithm can solve a problem, but we often don’t know exactly how.

Today’s machine-learning algorithms are considered a form of artificial intelligence, but it’s more helpful to think of them as prediction algorithms: Based on movies that this customer has rated highly, how much do we think he will like this other movie? Based on people we have hired in the past, how likely are we to hire this job candidate? Based on a list of past Halloween costumes, what might humans dress up as this year?

Hoping to find an answer to that last question, we turned to a machine-learning algorithm called textgenrnn that can learn to imitate text. Its author, Max Woolf, designed it as a blank slate ready to learn any kind of text; the text we gave it to imitate was a list of 7,182 costumes that people sent to aiweirdness.com over a year. Here are some examples of what that algorithm produced.

The algorithm learned to spell all of these words and phrases without human intervention, just by looking at the costume examples we gave it. It starts by making predictions about which letters should be used in which order to make a Halloween costume, and then it checks its own predictions by looking at the data used to train it. If it’s wrong (and at first, it almost always is), it refines its internal structure. Gradually, its predictions get better.”

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JJ Editor's Daily Picks

"The biggest topic in British political circles on Monday wasn’t the country’s impending departure from the European Union. It was milkshakes..."

"I often disagree with Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., but I've been disturbed by the idea that he should be run out of the Republican Party just because he believes President Trump committed impeachable offenses."

"The Icelandic band Hatari, whose members are quite vocal in their animosity towards Israel, held up Palestinian flags... Madonna, likewise, had two of her performers wear Israeli and Palestinian flags on their costumes."

"To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" premiering at the Cannes Film Festival, I turn to movie critic Roger Ebert's old review of "Raiders of the Lost Ark." (Trust me on this one.)"

"The money is already here—and has been for years. In the midst of a housing crisis, an injection of cash into the superheated real-estate market seems likely to cause an uptick in evictions and displacement."

"Parents concerned about YouTube debate whether to let their children have their own channels; some forbid it, others send them to summer camp..."

"‘I Had Completely Lost the Knack for Staying Alive..." Warmer weather brings daffodils, rhubarb at the farmer’s market — and, for some, despair."

"With his new book, Howard Stern proves that his rightful place is among the prophets and moral visionaries, not the ‘shock jocks’"

"I’m terrified of parenting in the anti-vaxxer age: Anti-vaccine propaganda isn’t just harmful to children. It threatens to erode our entire sense of community."

"...doctors are starting to think more about specific nutrients that feed tumor cells. That is, how what we eat affects how cancers grow..."

"...it represents an impressive achievement: a victory of humankind against the chaos that pervades the universe."

"If trends continue, in 20 years the majority of the world’s Jews will be living in Israel. The United States will see a continuing decline in overall numbers, with a growing observant Jewish population..."