Google's AI Is Reading Thousands of Romance Novels to Learn the Art of Conversation

Wednesday, 11 May 2016 - 3:04PM
Wednesday, 11 May 2016 - 3:04PM
Google's AI Is Reading Thousands of Romance Novels to Learn the Art of Conversation
Google's AI is becoming more advanced all the time, and even won the race to a huge artificial intelligence milestone when it beat the world master at Go. But like many AIs, it still has trouble with basic human tasks, like carrying on a casual conversation. Now, Google is trying to teach its AI to talk to humans more conversationally by feeding it thousands of romance novels, and hoping that it will learn from the witty and sophisticated banter found in novels with titles like Jacked Up, Unconditional Love, Ignited, and Fatal Desire. 

In all seriousness, the researchers contend that romance novels are ideal for the robot to learn conversational skills simply because they're so formulaic. As a result, it's easy for the AI to learn different words and syntax, because every romance novel has the exact same plot with slightly different words. As Andrew Dai, the Google software engineer who led the project along with Oriol Vinyals, told BuzzFeed News, "Girl falls in love with boy, boy falls in love with a different girl. Romance tragedy." (They also claim that romance novels are more desirable than children's books because there is more linguistic variety, which is dubious.)

So in order to teach the AI the nuances of language and conversation, the researchers fed the machine text from approximately 2,865 romance novels, in hopes that it will improve the Google App and Google's Smart Reply product:

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"In the Google app, the responses are very factual," said Dai. "Hopefully with this work, and future work, it can be more conversational, or can have a more varied tone, or style, or register."
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Of course, it's a little frightening to think that Google's app will be learning from gender-stereotypical romance novels, especially when we remember what happened to Tay, Microsoft's chatbot who started hitting on everyone and then devolved into a sexist, racist, genocidal nightmare. But the creators claim that they are taking precautions to ensure that the technology doesn't go rogue and start praising Hitler.

Opening quote
"It's quite sexy. It's very imaginative," Dai said. "We work directly with the product folks on how to develop this with minimal risk of it doing bad things, things that we don't expect."
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But the most fascinating part of this teaching method is that the AI actually "learned by doing." In order to test the bot's knowledge of human speech and syntax and help it integrate and synthesize its knowledge, the researchers had the AI compose its own similar sentences and check them against the sentences from the novels, and repeat the process until it had refined its ability to write in English. The researchers say the technology could "theoretically" write its own romance novel, which raises the inevitable question: could we fall in love with a robot someday, just like Joaquin Phoenix in Her?

Opening quote
"It could happen eventually," Dai said. "There's an ancient Greek story about a guy who builds a statue of the most beautiful woman. The statue is more beautiful than any other woman, and he falls in love with the statue. If you can fall in love with a statue, I don't see why you couldn't fall in love with a neural network trained on romance novels."
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