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Adam King’s Talk to Transformer completes the text you feed it using an artificial neural network. It’s a bit like predictive text on your phone, though the responses seem to be a bit more varied based on what you give it. If you give it poetry, it returns poetry. Same with articles, song lyrics, lists of names, grocery lists, short stories, et cetera. Sometimes the completion doesn’t really match the text you feed it; feed it your grocery list, for example, and you might get a strange recipe back. Not a recipe that matches your ingredients, either; we’re still a few years from that.

This tool generates new text every time you ask it to, even if you’re using the same sample. Here are three samples generated by the same prompt.

The lights changed just after I opened my umbrella. I stepped off the curb and directly into a puddle. My shoe filled with cold water.  “Ah ha! ” I thought, not at all surprised, but rather glad to survive the night.  I did not have much time to prepare myself as soon as I stepped onto the sidewalk, but I have been preparing this night for ages and have become familiar with the weather.  Since it was an early morning, I was on the beach watching the sunset with my friend…

The lights changed just after I opened my umbrella. I stepped off the curb and directly into a puddle. My shoe filled with cold water.  I looked at my water bottle in my pocket and my hands trembled.
I had to look up at a tall and slender woman running ahead of me with blue curly hair. Her arms wrapped around me and they looked at me. “You’re too young,” she whispered under her breath. But I knew her.
I glanced over her shoulder. She had a pair of black shorts tucked into her black polo shirt. She looked comfortable. She was smiling at me. “We’ll see you later.”

The lights changed just after I opened my umbrella. I stepped off the curb and directly into a puddle. My shoe filled with cold water.  “Whoa, cool out already?” I laughed, I really liked my cool down. My mouth was dripping with saliva. My heart seemed to stop.  I could feel it in my throat. My face was covered in a thin layer of ice. The heat and cold were now melting it completely, and the air became a dull hot liquid.

A white robot with black eyes looks quizically at the viewer. Photo by Owen Beard on Unsplash.

Owen Beard / Unsplash

It works in multiple languages as well. If you try to feed it foreign language text that uses Roman letters, such as French or German, it tends to revert to English after a sentence or two. I don’t think it recognizes that French is different from English. When I fed it the characters 夏川(“summer river”), it returned some Japanese text:

夏川五右衛門 裏天上界の使徒・エンジェル 裏天冥の星龍帝・デフォード 裏天翼機・セラフィス 裏天空の使徒・エンジェル 裏天界の書記官・エノク 裏夜行の屍霊龍・ドラゴンゾンビ 裏奈落の狂皇子・ベルゼブブ 裏姫護の魔公子・コシュまる 裏宝剣龍・ドラクリスト 裏嵐翼の迅龍帝・スリーディア 裏冥穣の守護神・メジェドラ 裏冥眼の龍僧・三蔵法師 裏冶金の軍神・タケミナカタ 裏凍翼の双龍帝:・ベイツール 裏全能神・ゼウス=ドラゴン 裏光の上忍 裏光の守護鬼・ショウキ 裏光の宝珠龍・ヨウビ 裏光の精・サンリッチ

According to Google Translate, this passage is something out of a polytheistic apocalypse, with references to Zeus, Beelzebub, and the “Apostle of the Back Heaven.” The characters 天上 (“heaven” in Chinese) returned some mixed Chinese and English text.

天上辅面の者従。本来是南产都安兹張撞到用户的桂较绝的激术,说明列越或为用透藏的进行人才对在是退论的意坡。在因为用户与这个人居弄的表情才会,目前逐高达头得到起来的送成也以吗?这样是能发出恐怕。 “And if we get there…” 「这是吗。只是……」 “Eh? You’ve already said you’re not going to go, right? Then why did you tell me there?” 「可是、倒是得到那样呢?」 “Because I could get no help from any of its servants or officers. In addition, I’ve had no luck at the last two times I tried getting in contact with the

Something about developing a city, and “a sympathy society, the immediate arrival of the high-ranking narratives, and the subsequent narrative.” Sontag bot, anyone? I don’t know how fluid this predictive text appears to native speakers. It wouldn’t surprise me if different languages have different returns on investment, depending on the neural network used and how it’s been trained.

I fed Talk to Transformer the first three lines (as I remembered them) from “Breathe,” the second track on Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon. The result was a somewhat incoherent pop song with the repeated refrain “Don’t you ever think of us as rivals.” Nice and ominous, a bit of a predatory “Suspicious Minds” vibe from this one. “When your friends tell you stories, don’t believe them.” Sure thing, boss. Here it is in all its glory:

A robot plays a white piano. Photo by Franck V on Unsplash.

Franck V / Unsplash

Breathe, breathe in the air
Don’t be afraid to care
Run, choose your own ground

I’ll see your dreams come true
I’ll hear your stories of beauty Come on, you get the feeling that
We could do this together
Don’t you ever think of us as rivals
There’s a reason why
I could see you walking on the beach tonight
When your friends tell your stories, don’t believe them
But the first thing we have to show is
That you’re a kid
And you always do whatever goes with it, don’t you see? That’s how we start
I’ll see your dreams come true
I’ll hear your stories of beauty
That’s why we get along
Don’t you ever think of us as rivals
You’re right there with us
I always wanted you, but you’re just so good with everything
I’m gonna keep the lights on
That’s why you always get along
Be your own boss
We all like the way you walk
What’s it gonna be like when we meet up again? Don’t you ever think of us as rivals
What’s the matter with your hair?
Come on you got the feeling that
We could do this together
Don’t you ever think of us as rivals
You’re right there with us
Ain’t no doubt in my mind that
We

Photo of Osamu Dazai by Shigeru Tamura, 1948.

No longer human?

Now what happens when we feed it the actual, complete lyrics of the song? The result is a very existentialist, anguished text reminiscent of Osamu Dazai.

It was time to find out what I was born to do. There came a time during my childhood when there was no more hope for me. No matter what I tried, there was no real solution for me to live for. I hated the world and felt that there was a place within our world for only human beings. That, was where I wanted to end- but what about someone else?

It was time to choose my career path in hopes that somehow, someway, something would happen to give me a chance to change everything for the better or give me the ability to live life with honor. At that time (for me, at least), and perhaps only through my parents and my brother when I

Quite a contrast to the example above. It ends mid-sentence, so feel free to supply your own ending. Here is mine:

It was time to find out what I was born to do. There came a time during my childhood when there was no more hope for me. No matter what I tried, there was no real solution for me to live for. I hated the world and felt that there was a place within our world for only human beings. That, was where I wanted to end- but what about someone else?

It was time to choose my career path in hopes that somehow, someway, something would happen to give me a chance to change everything for the better or give me the ability to live life with honor. At that time (for me, at least), and perhaps only through my parents and my brother when I saw their love for me, did I glimpse the possibility of a world that could exist with me inside of it.

I went as far out of the city as I could without taking any trains. For miles and miles around there were suburbs, stretching into bleak beige and concrete infinity. These suburbs had been cities themselves once, and villages before that, and forest even earlier. I wanted to go up to one of the houses, knock on the door, and ask the person who answered if they had ever thought about the forest that used to grow where their house stood. But I didn’t. I’m a coward at heart. And I knew that, no matter how hard I tried, I would not get what I was looking for in their answer, whatever it may be.

Finally I came across a hill, bare, with just dry grass and some broken-up concrete. I climbed to the top of the hill and sat down. It was starting to get dark, and an evening breeze felt good against my sweaty face. I closed my eyes.

“Tell me what to do,” I said. I could say it was a prayer but I don’t know who I was praying to. God? Truly I was asking myself. I wondered sometimes if the answer was trapped inside of me somewhere, like a key hidden in the wall of a castle. I waited there, eyes closed, for three hours. But no answer came.

I fed the end of this completion into the machine, and got the following addition:

Finally I came across a hill, bare, with just dry grass and some broken-up concrete. I climbed to the top of the hill and sat down. It was starting to get dark, and an evening breeze felt good against my sweaty face. I closed my eyes.

“Tell me what to do,” I said. I could say it was a prayer but I don’t know who I was praying to. God? Truly I was asking myself. I wondered sometimes if the answer was trapped inside of me somewhere, like a key hidden in the wall of a castle. I waited there, eyes closed, for three hours. But no answer came. It’s the devil’s hand in me. I felt sad, but I prayed to God.

A voice came from deep in the hillside – something like three feet high, ten to twelve feet high, maybe. I stood and looked up. All around me were the remains of buildings and trucks, but there were no signs of living persons. I was not looking to find or to photograph any survivors. I wasn’t looking for a sign, no dead body, no footprints. I was looking for my father, the person I always assumed was dead. The man who never showed up for church, the one who never took time to pray, no, not the day before, not even the night before. I stood and looked about

Brrr! Keeping the eerie theme and turning it up to 11! I’ve continued this story in another post, with alternating paragraphs by me and the machine. I’ve posted the end result here.

This is a game you can play with a neural network (or other A.I. program) like Talk to Transformer: give it the first paragraph of a story, let it write one paragraph, then you write the next one, then it takes that paragraph and continues the story, etc., until you reach a natural stopping point. Use a “Yes and…” attitude of accepting whatever the program gives you, even if it contradicts what came before. Like “Exquisite Corpse” but with text. Perhaps I’m a fool for suggesting it, and am only training my replacement. Time will tell.

This isn’t even scratching the surface of A.I.’s possibilities. Computers can already make photorealistic images of people, write news stories and poems. They recognize millions of faces in real time and manage inventory and online shopping recommendations for large brands like Nike. A.I. programs can also fight climate change by integrating more renewable energy into the electrical grid and improving weather forecasts. They may soon write novels, full-length screenplays, and even build websites, and their content, from scratch. But behind every machine is a human. Will we use these incredibly powerful machines for good, or for evil? That’s really up to us.

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