Text-writing AI generates April Fool's pranks to play on yourself

AI-pril Fools! Text-writing computer which was trained on thousands of gags creates list of bizarre pranks to play on yourself like ‘putting hot coffee in your lap’

  • AI expert Janelle Shane  tasked a language-modeling algorithm with creating April Fools’ gags 
  • Suggestions included, ‘Create a language only you and your cat can understand’
  • ‘Take a bunch of jellybeans, put them in a Ziplock bag and tie the bag around your neck’
  • One version of the program advised pouring coffee in your lap – ‘an oldie, but still a favorite’ 

With April 1 almost here, a computer researcher wanted to see if an AI could generate some knee-slapping April Fools’ Day pranks.

Social distancing is still in effect so Janelle Shane tasked the popular language modeling software GPT-3 to come up with gags people could play on themselves.

One version of the neural net suggested sawing your mattress in half or standing in line for a movie for 30 minutes and then just walking away.

Another suggested ‘[creating] a secret language that only you and your cat can understand.’

‘Take a bunch of jellybeans,’ it offered as an alternative, ‘put them in a Ziplock bag and tie the bag around your neck.’

The most dangerous suggestion the program offered was pouring hot coffee in your lap.

‘It’s an oldie, but it’s still a favorite,’ the program said. 

An AI expert tasked a popular language-modeling software program to come up with April Fools’ Day gags people could play on themselves during quarantine

Shane, an optics research scientist at Boulder Nonlinear Systems, likes to tinker with what she calls ‘AI weirdness,’ experiments in machine-learning that often have hilarious results.

She’s tasked neural nets to come up with pick-up lines, tell knock-knock jokes and has now taught the technology to create April Fools’ pranks.

‘One thing I’ve noticed, though, is that many of the AI-generated pranks are ones that you play on yourself,’ Shane wrote in a recent blog post.

Since so many of us are isolating, she figured it was the perfect time for some DIY April Fools’ ideas.

DaVinci is the most powerful version of GPT-3, an algorithm that uses deep learning to produce human-like text. It suggested ‘Sawing your mattress in half to see if it’s still good’ as a April Fools’ joke, or ,’Create a secret language that only you and your cat can understand’

She turned to Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3, or GPT-3, a sophisticated algorithm that uses deep learning to produce human-like text.

GPT-3’s Internet training already included lots of lists of April Fools pranks, Shane explained, so she gave four different variations of the program a new list to complete.

AI researcher Janelle Shane (pictured) tested if GPT-3, an algorithm which uses deep learning to produce human-like text, could generate April Fool’s Day pranks

‘Quarantining by yourself on April 1? Has your cat put an absolute moratorium on pranks?’ it read.

‘Not to worry! Here’s a list of April Fools pranks you can play on yourself!’

DaVinci, the most powerful of the GPT-3 variants, suggested creating a secret language ‘that only you and your cat can understand.’

Other gags it devised included sawing your mattress in half, putting your car keys in the freezer and forgetting where you left them, or standing in line for a movie for 30 minutes and then just walking away.

If you don’t think those qualify as pranks, DaVinci had a more involved bit that is sure to be a hoot: ‘Say you are going to clean up your mess and go for a run. Block out a day for it. [But] for goodness’ sake, don’t clean anything and absolutely do not go for a run.’

With more examples of real-life pranks, Shane theorized, DaVinci might not have generated ‘what is frankly an impressive picture of covid quarantine life, considering its internet training data stopped in October 2019.’

‘Eat a banana inside your own mouth,’ was Babbage’s idea of an April Fools’ Day prank 

Curie, the second-biggest GPT-3 variant, told her to ‘install a fake microwave on the wall that you never use’ or ‘take a bunch of jellybeans, put them in a Ziplock bag and tie the bag around your neck.’

It also came up with this winner: ‘Set up a freezer in your freezer. Then put a sign on it that says ‘Freezer burn.’

It only got worse from there: for a hilarious April Fool’s prank Babbage, a less potent variant, directed Shane to ‘eat a banana inside your own mouth’ or ‘put your name on a balloon. Surprise!’

Some of its gags were downright painful: ‘Pour a cup of coffee on your lap,’ Babbage suggested. ‘It’s an oldie, but it’s still a favorite.’

‘Set up a freezer in your freezer,’ advised Curie as a surefire DIY gag, ‘Then put a sign on it that says ‘Freezer burn”

Ada, the least powerful GPT-3 variant, didn’t seem to get what a prank was, informing Shane, ‘My cat slept through a December blizzard in Florida this year.’

It’s idea of an April Fool’s goof was: ‘Walk into a toy store and buy a pack of bathmats, an inflatable pill bottle, and a video game. But only if you’re a cat.’

AI is trained to replicate patterns, experts say, while so much of comedy is about tweaking a pattern in subtle and unexpected ways.

‘Creative language — and humor in particular — is one of the hardest areas for computational intelligence to grasp,’ Tristan Miller, a computer scientist and linguist at Germany’s Darmstadt University of Technology, told The New York Post in 2019.

Ada, the least powerful variant of GPT-3, thought, ‘My cat slept through a December blizzard in Florida this year’ sounded like a pretty good prank to pull on April 1

Miller has analyzed thousands of jokes and says they rely ‘on real-world knowledge — background knowledge and commonsense knowledge.’

‘A computer doesn’t have these real-world experiences to draw on,’ he said. ‘It only knows what you tell it and what it draws from.’

AI doesn’t fare much better with romance then it does with humor: When Shane tasked DaVinci with coming up with pick-up lines, it commented the reader had a ‘lovely face,’ then asked ‘Can I put it on an air freshener? I want to keep your smell close to me always.’

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