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Why would you do that?

Friday, 13 January 2017 12:35PM Fun With Neural Networks

Why a neural network in particular? No reason at all. Neural networks are just one way of doing machine learning, but I think they're a pretty interesting one.

You take a program that's easy for another program to change. You give it lots of ways to change, and lots of chances to change, and a testable goal it's trying to achieve, with lots of examples to check against. The rest is basically trial and error on an enormous scale.

My network ran through 23650 generations, and took all night to do it. And at the end, my computer had programmed itself to write. Not just to write, but to write like me. Supposedly.

How is that not intriguing?

Neural Network

Why do this at all though? There are a couple of reasons.

Firstly, because jumping into the deep end of something is the best way to understand it. Machine learning is playing a bigger and bigger part in our world, and I think that understanding how your world works is important. Also, learning new stuff is fun!

There was definitely an element of curiosity, too. Two of the most interesting bits of the internet I watch and listen to, Idea Channel and Flash Foward, have had a go a this. In fact, that's... where I got the idea. If Idea Channel can generate interesting nonsense with five years of scripts, then surely I could get something with over ten of blogs, right?

I wanted to see what a network would think I was like. It's almost a bit of self-discovery. What patterns do I have that a network would be able to discover?

I primed the network with the phrase, 'This post was written by a neural network.', and used a 'temperature' of 0.5, where 0 is entirely unoriginal and 1 is entirely too original. I generated a couple of posts, and picked the one that made me go 'whoa' - the post which not only included correct paragraphing and punctuation, but which had generated an entirely valid image embed code. Broken, sure - the filename it links to doesn't exist - but everything else about the link was perfectly formatted.

Reading this stuff is weirdly compelling, even though it's utterly meaningless. Some of it is surprisingly poetic. I felt bad editing it, like I was changing something that someone had worked really hard on. I can't bring myself to delete any of it either, even though it's the opposite of precious - this thing could literally generate more stuff than I have time to read in a lifetime. And somehow I keep wanting to read more, to pan for gems, wondering where that train of thought was going even though I know there's nothing there doing any thinking. Something about it is close enough to real to keep you looking for personality and meaning in structured nonsense, and I think that's completely fascinating.

What was all that about?

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