Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Denver news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Des Moines news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tampa Bay news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Charlotte news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Janelle Shane / AI Weirdness

Electrical engineer Janelle Shane's hobby is giving neural networks — a computing system that loosely mimics a brain — somewhat silly datasets to see what they can create. 

Most recently, she input 44,126 thesis titles from MIT. Some of the products —  “Atoms and characteristics of monolithic nanocity,” for example — may not immediately jump out as odd. Others, Shane says, are "completely ridiculous."

Case in point: Spacecraft Coal battery induced by mortgage microcontrol.

How it works:

  • The neural network basically predicts what the next letter in a word or phrase should be based on the probability of it being in that spot across the dataset it was trained on.
  • If there is an 80% chance of an ‘h’ following a ‘c’ and a 20% chance of it instead being an ‘e,’ the responsible neural network would go with ‘h.’
  • But if the creativity setting is turned up, the AI may gamble with the less probable territory and see where it takes it, says Shane.
  • At a certain point, though, it may output words that don't even exist. (For example, "frook" and "nurler.") “It is an art form with its own connections," says Shane. 

Yes but: There is the issue of bias, which is clear in the dataset.

  • The word "control" (a favorite of engineers) and the phrase "of a medical device" (a sign of the times) appeared often.
  • And because these were MIT theses, tokamak — an experimental fusion device that was a source of institutional pride before it was shut down — turned up often.
  • The neural network returns results skewed by the raw materials it was given to start.
  • It wouldn't do a good job of detecting and collecting all of the world's theses into a database given only a sample from a school focused on engineering and science.
  • And, Shane's goal is for this to be funny, so her own sense of humor colors the results.

Chuckle all you will about the neural network's creations — and they are entertainment in Shane’s eyes — but if what's generated resonates with humans and is then replicated or perpetuated by us, the neural network is arguably creative at some level. An opera company used lines generated by Shane’s neural network and a brewery in Michigan took one of the machine’s suggestions of "The Fine Stranger" in naming one of its beers. 

The larger lesson: The AI actually understand very little, says Shane. The neural network she uses is roughly equivalent to the brain of an earthworm in terms of neurons employed. “It is limited and unintelligent when taken outside it's comfort zone," she says. "And, my computer is dedicating 100% of itself to these tasks, but an earthworm has to do other things."

Go deeper

33 mins ago - Technology

Facebook Oversight Board overturns 4 of its 5 first cases

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Facebook's independent Oversight Board published its first set of decisions Thursday, overturning 4 of the 5 cases it chose to review out of 20,000 cases submitted.

Why it matters: The decision to go against Facebook's conclusions in 4 out of 5 instances gives legitimacy to the Board, which is funded via a $130 million grant from Facebook.

New York AG: State severely undercounted COVID nursing home deaths

Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Data from New York's public health department undercounted COVID-19-related deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50%, according to a report released Thursday by state Attorney General Letitia James.

The big picture: Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration did not include nursing home patients who died after being transferred to the hospital in its tally of over 8,500 nursing home deaths, according to the report. Data provided to the attorney general's office from 62 nursing homes "shows a significantly higher number of resident COVID-19 deaths can be identified than is reflected" in the official count.

Trading platforms curb trading on high-flying Reddit stocks

Major trading platforms including Robinhood, TDAmeritrade and Interactive Brokers are restricting — or cutting off entirely — trading on high-flying stocks like GameStop and AMC Entertainment.

Why it matters: It limits access to the traders that have contributed to the wild Reddit-driven activity of the past few days — a phenomenon that has gripped Wall Street and the country.