Why Google's artificial intelligence is devouring romance novels

A Google AI system is learning to become more conversational by being fed content from romance novels.

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

What can computers learn from bodice-ripping romance novels? More than you might think.

Google engineers have been feeding text from steamy romance novels to an artificial intelligence (AI) engine in order to give Google's technology -- like its mobile app -- the ability to produce more human, conversational text, BuzzFeed News reports.

The company's researchers been able to get the AI to write out full sentences that would resemble those in the typical romance novel. It might seem like an unlikely genre for the search engine to tackle, but this is seen as a step in improving Google products' facility with the written word.

"In the Google app, the responses are very factual," Andrew Dai, the Google software engineer in charge of the project, told BuzzFeed. "Hopefully with this work, and future work, it can be more conversational, or can have a more varied tone, or style, or register."

Why do these particular books make such good language teachers? Romance novels follow a very predictable narrative blueprint -- the names may change from book to book, but the essential story formula is familiar. The idea is that Google's AI can easily cull through this material to find patterns within the sentences to get a broader comprehension of language as a whole

The researchers fed the AI about 2,865 romantic reads.

Of course, this kind of cognitive machine-based learning is not exclusive to Google. Other companies -- like IBM, with its cognitive computing system Watson -- have been feeding AIs with countless datasets to allow them to do everything from playing Jeopardy! to designing a dress to helping doctors make more targeted diagnoses.

Of course, a chatty AI system doesn't always perform quite as expected. Just think back to "Tay," the artificial intelligence chatbot designed by Microsoft to interact with humans on Twitter. The bot was designed to learn and respond in a conversational way, but was easily tripped up by malicious humans and began tweeting out racist and lewd comments it "learned" online.

Google's AI system aims to be more polite -- and yes, romantic. When asked by BuzzFeed if a human could eventually fall in love with a cognitive system schooled in the language of love, Dai said it was a possibility down the line.

"It could happen eventually. 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," he said. "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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