As you gather round the fireplace this Christmas and your smug second cousin decides it’s time to drunkenly berate everyone about the blockchain market, try drowning him out with this new, technologically-advanced carol: “Santa baby bore sweet Jesus Christ. Fa la la la la la la, la la la la la la la la.”
Research scientist Janelle Shane trained a neural network to write Christmas carols. The machine learns from a dataset, which in this instance was about 240 carols, new and old, aggregated by the Times of London and neural net hobbyist Erik Svensson.
Neural networks can learn to imitate tone and vocabulary, as Shane points out in a blog post about the carols, but they pretty much suck at picking up on the subtleties of the human language. In other words, while the machine can easily learn how to successfully string together words and phrases, they don’t make a whole lot of sense. For example:
The story of the chimney see
Santa baby, and blood and joyous so world and joy and good will to see
Santa baby bore sweet Jesus Christ
Fa la la la la la la, la la la la la la la la.
King of toys and hippopotamuses [sic] full of the light of that stood at the dear Son of Santa Claus
He was born in a wonderful christmas tree
Run, run Rudolph, run, run Rudolph, run, run Rudolph, run, run Rudolph, run, run Rudolph, run, run Rudolph, run, run Rudolph, run, run Rudolf the new born King.
Shane noted that not all of the words produced by the neural network were originally found in the dataset provided. For instance, the words “Curry” and “Dingle” weren’t in the input data, but did show up in the AI-generated carols. “The neural net likes to invent words that it thinks sound sort of carol-y,” Shane wrote.
With a heart reindeer
But no more a stranger.
Santa baby, and Dancer, and Curry down
When the snowflakes will call the world wakes to bring
Glory bears and asses the air the angels sang
And Christmas tree
There are also a number of carols featuring the Sandman, but Shane said in the post that the word was only mentioned once in the human dataset, adding that neural networks can inexplicably cling to certain words.
The sandman so be joyful now it was born today!
Gloria in excelsis Deo.
The sandman bright before Him.
The holly bears a berry bears
And star in the snow is born today!
The sandman so love to seek the world
The sandman so love so deep and sing and the sun
The machine’s inability to grasp the nuances of human language means that these carols are deeply nonsensical. Finding meaning in them is a fool’s errand. But while deeply flawed, the neural net’s meaningless garble is touching in its own right. It tried, and isn’t that what matters most? You can view all of the carols here.