Discover the strange, beautiful poetry of a real-life robot raised on romance novels.

It was only a matter of time before artificial intelligence entered its adolescent emo phase. Thanks to Google, that time is now.

Move over, Romeo; there's a new romantic master in town.

But unlike that creepily obsessive Shakespearean suitor, this saccharine paramour scrawls its sweet nothings across computer screens instead of scrolls of parchment. Here's a sampling of its lovely lyrical language:


Image (altered) via rabiem22/Flickr.

It sounds like the sparse, pseudo-profound writing of a potentially-talented-if-undeniably-angsty teenager. Except for the part where it was actually written by a robot.

Or, well, artificial intelligence if we're being technical since it doesn't have a body. Yet.

But the surprising wordsmith behind this — and many other accidental found poems — is Google Brain, an artificial intelligence system that's spent the last few years undergoing some pretty crazy deep machine learning programs. It's the same AI that controls video recommendations on YouTube as well as the speech recognition software on the Android phone.

It was only a matter of time before it entered its adolescent emo phase, just like those of us with non-artificial intelligence.

And how exactly did this robo-mantic learn such a way with words? The same way anyone else does: by reading a lot.

According to Quartz, Google researchers shared a scientific paper titled "Generating Sentences from a Continuous Space" at the International Conference on Learning Representations in May. The paper detailed the team's efforts to train their AI to parse the linguistic connections between sentences using something called recurrent neural network language models, or RNNLMs, which mimic human brain behaviors.

Researchers provided the AI with the text of approximately 12,000 ebooks, including 2,865 romance novels and about 1,500 fantasy novels.

And the romance novel influence is pre-tty clear.

The somewhat-sentient software attempted to identify patterns and relationships between the words and phrases of some 80 million sentences. They then challenged the machine by providing it with two separate sentences and instructing it to create a series of new sentences that would get from point A to point B.

For example, they told the AI to start with the sentence "Amazing, isn't it?" and gradually connect it to the sentence "I couldn't do it." And here's what they got:

While not intentionally created as poems, per se, a lot of the resulting text blocks read like cool, abstract poetry.

It's nothing revolutionary — although I do appreciate the e.e. cummings touch of writing in lowercase letters. But it's fascinating nonetheless and gives lots of room for the reader to project their own meaning onto it.

Like this one, which I clearly interpreted as the troubling confession of a heartbroken mall Easter bunny coming to terms with bisexuality (or possibly polyamory?):

Of course, the results weren't always as eerily esoteric as that.

The scientific paper details the researchers' attempts to write the right algorithm to instruct their AI accordingly. One of the major steps they realized was the need to give it some limitations — because without any other parameters, "Connect these two sentences! Go!" didn't go as well as they hoped…

To be fair, that's basically like handing a dictionary to a child and telling them to make a sentence. Which is why the researchers got nonsense like this, too:

You can spot some semblance of logic here — why word B would follow word A and so on. Unfortunately, these examples, ya know, don't make sense.

Eventually, the researchers figured out that a more gradual transition was required to get the Google Brain to produce anything resembling a natural sentence progression.

The resulting algorithm is what gives this accidental Google poetry its hypnotic repetitions of anaphora and diacope and other cool poetic terms. Again, it's not intentionally employing these clever literary devices.

But it's certainly cool that it does!

While this Google Brain poetry opens up a lot of cool philosophical questions about language and more, it's probably not something we need to worry about too much. For now, anyway.

Google's AI research has come a long way since just last year when it threatened researchers with physical violence. (Oops!) It's certainly doing better than Microsoft's failed genocidal robot Twitter teen.

And frankly, if we are going to train machines to think and act like humans, it's probably better that we wean them on romance novels than, I don't know, "The Terminator" or something.

But, for now, it's pretty unlikely this algorithmic lyricist actually understands its own words. It's mostly just an excellent mimic, feeling out how to make sense of different contexts and common phrases. Slowly piecing together the pieces of a much bigger puzzle as it goes along.

Which, when you think about it, sounds pretty human after all.

Family

Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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