Natural Language Takes Lessons from Famous Authors

April 18, 2016

What better way to train a natural language AI than to bring venerated human authors into the equation? Wired reports, “Google Wants to Predict the Next Sentences of Dead Authors.” Not surprisingly, Google researchers are tapping into Project Gutenberg for their source material. Writer Matt Burgess relates:

“The network is given millions of lines from a ‘jumble’ of authors and then works out the style of individual writers. Pairs of lines were given to the system, which made a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ decision to whether they matched up. Initially the system didn’t know the identity of any authors, but still only got things wrong 17 percent of the time. By giving the network an indication of who the authors were, giving it another factor to compare work against, the computer scientists reduced the error rate to 12.3 percent. This was also improved by a adding a fixed number of previous sentences to give the network more context.”

The researchers carry their logic further. As the Wired title says, they have their AI predict an author’s next sentence; we’re eager to learn what Proust would have said next. They also have the software draw conclusions about authors’ personalities. For example, we’re told:

“Google admitted its predictions weren’t necessarily ‘particularly accurate,’ but said its AI had identified William Shakespeare as a private person and Mark Twain as an outgoing person. When asked ‘Who is your favourite author?’ and [given] the options ‘Mark Twain’, ‘William Shakespeare’, ‘myself’, and ‘nobody’, the Twain model responded with ‘Mark Twain’ and the Shakespeare model responded with ‘William Shakespeare’. Asked who would answer the phone, the AI Shakespeare hoped someone else would answer, while Twain would try and get there first.”

I can just see Twain jumping over Shakespeare to answer the phone. The article notes that Facebook is also using the work of human authors to teach its AI, though that company elected to use children’s classics  like The Jungle Book, A Christmas Carol, and Alice in Wonderland. Will we eventually see a sequel to Through the Looking Glass?



Cynthia Murrell, April 18, 2016

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