Janelle Shane, PhD '14

Strange Intelligence

Janelle Shane, PhD ’14, has used neural networks, or artificial intelligence, to create names for guinea pigs, knock-knock jokes, even pies and ice cream flavors, with results that are as odd as they are hilarious—consider a scoop of Sticky Crumple on a slice of Cromberry Yaas.

Shane, an electrical engineer and research scientist in Boulder, Colo., has fun with artificial machine learning algorithms in her spare time. “I’m not a neural network researcher, but there’s never been a better time to experiment with them,” she says. She publishes the results on her blog, AI Weirdness, and has a book coming out this fall.

Shane first gained media attention when she had AI generate new paint colors from the Sherwin-Williams catalog. Imagine painting your room Burf Pink, Clear Paste, perhaps a shade of Suffer or Burnt Bit Curry.

Since then, she’s had AI riff on recipes (artichoke gelatin dogs, anyone?) pick up lines (“I want to see you to my heart.”) Shane even takes requests—an animal shelter once asked her to name their kittens. How could anyone resist Beep Boop or Whiskeridoo?

We sent Shane the entire UC San Diego course catalog, from A Glimpse into Acting to Zionism and Post Zionism. She used the neural network textgenrnn to make up more classes, with results spanning from ridiculous to profound:

Imagine the reading list for Deathchip Study. Advanced Smiling Equations and Practicum Geology-Love sound appealing, while Chemistry of Chemistry is either redundant or mind-blowing. What are the prerequisites to The Papering II? And where does one even begin with The Sun Programpineerstance and Development, or Advanced A World Globbilian Applications?

“The algorithm learns by example, so any phrase, word, or even part of a word that it sees repeatedly is likely to become one of its favorites,” Shane explains. “It knows that “istics” and “ing” both go at the end of words. But it doesn’t know which words, since it doesn’t know what words actually mean. It’s hard to tell if it’s inventing new college courses, or making fun of them.”

Some classes seemed just as intriguing as the real thing—think you can you tell the difference at left? Who knows, maybe they’ll inspire real coursework someday. Until then, as Shane says, “If artificial intelligence is the future, then without a strong background in Globbilian Applications, you’ll definitely be left behind.”



Janelle’s book, You Look Like a Thing and I Love You: How Artificial Intelligence Works and Why It’s Making the World a Weirder Place will be released November 5, 2019. Learn more