St. Valentine Would Have Loved Neural Network-Generated Candy Hearts


Even before I could read, I was handing out packs of Sweethearts—sugar candies printed with messages of romantic and platonic love—to classmates every Feb. 14.

The chalky confections invite friends to “TEXT ME,” “FRIEND ME,” and “ADORE ME”; implore acquaintances to “BOOGIE” or “REACH 4 IT”; and let mates know that it’s “TRUE LOVE” and “ME & YOU.”

This Valentine’s Day, research scientist Janelle Shane is giving those tired refrains an update, courtesy of her neural network.

“I collected all the genuine heart messages I could find, and then gave them to a learning algorithm,” she explained in a blog post. “The candy heart messages it produced… Well, you be the judge.”

Some, Shane pointed out, could “pass for—and arguably improve upon” your garden variety aphorisms: “CUTE KISS,” “MY BEAR,” “LOVE BUN.” (Take note, Necco.)

Others are “perhaps not quite as effective”: “SWEET PEAR,” “COOL CUD,” “FANCY MY HERO.”

Choose carefully (via Janelle Shane)

Artificial intelligence is still in its infancy. Sure, IBM’s Watson can destroy human Jeopardy contestants, and DeepMind’s Go-playing computer no longer needs human intervention to slay the game.

But, as this experiment proves, there is still a ways to go before machines put greeting card writers out of work.

Having started with a very small foundation of only 360 sayings, Shane bulked up her training data by adding “my favorite neural network-generated messages” to the original set, creating some 500 statements in total.

“The first thing I noticed is the definite upswing in the number of messages involving bears,” she wrote in a follow-up blog. “I’m seeing worrying signs of a bear-based feedback loop that might lead to 100 percent bear content after a few more iterations of this.”

It also offered a number of seemingly complimentary axioms, like “SWEET TANK,” “OOO,” “CUTEY LIDS,” “BEST MANE.” As well as these unintelligible options: “MAGE LOVE,” “SWEET BOG,” and “BEELT POSWRORD U?GHCLENCY U,” which, frankly, won’t even fit on a candy heart.

Maybe stick with chocolate and flowers this year… (via Janelle Shane)

If Necco ever wants to release a line of NSFW Sweethearts, Shane’s got a list of “not-so-PG” adage that would be perfect. (Fill out an online form to have them emailed to you.)

These 21st-century maxims have come a long way since the New England Confectionery Company began printing sayings on its candy in 1866.

Often used for weddings, the original sweets featured truisms like, “Married in pink, he will take a drink,” “Married in white, you have chosen right,” and “Married in satin, love will not be lasting.”


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