Here’s What A Robot Learned After Binge-Reading Romance Novels

Apparently, erotica made Google's AI a better conversationalist.
By Wunderfool via Getty Images

Romance novels aren’t known for their fresh metaphors. The genre is meant to be palatable and easy to enjoy even if your critical thinking skills are disengaged. Not that there’s anything decidedly unsexy about a knotty metaphor (Ha! Ha!) -- it’s just that parsing out the symbolism of an hour-long thunderstorm won’t get the job done as quickly as, say, comparing a woman’s “deep gaze” to the “midnight sky.”

So if you’re looking to spruce up your language use, adorning it with novel comparisons, romance novels might not be the best place to start. But Google, hoping to elevate the conversational skills of its Artificial Intelligence, thought otherwise.

According to, the site had built a bot that could spit out facts like a champ; but, no one enjoys chatting with a walking Dictionary, lest they hope to be proven wrong, and tactlessly. Hoping to make their bot a little more relatable to humans, Google began feeding it steamy romance passages, imbuing its database of facts with cheesy, raunchy flair.

But why romance novels? Earlier this month Google’s software engineer Andrew Dai explained to BuzzFeed News that the genre’s formulaic approach to storytelling makes it ideal for machine learning. They hit a sweet spot between the labyrinthine, meandering sentences found in literary fiction, and the less elevated language used in kids’ books.

And in a heartrending plot twist: the experiment worked. The hairy details were released last week, but in short, the AI successfully connected lines of text to related phrases based on frequently connected words and phrases used in romance novels.

To do so, the team of programmers fed the AI a line of text to begin a conversation and a line of text to end a conversation, and then left it up to the bot to fill in a given number of lines in between. In one example, the team fed the AI “It was silent for a long moment” and “It was my turn.” The bot filled in the conversation with lines such as “It was quiet for a moment” and “It was dark and cold,” making the simulated exchange sound more like a brooding diary entry or punk song than a chat between acquaintances. Still, the text is comprehensible, which is saying something. The bot isn’t writing publishable plots -- yet -- but it’s that much closer to emulating human dialogue.

This isn’t the first time a team of programmers built AI that could formulate plausibly human-sounding sentences. App developer Corey Pressman created a metadata project called Poetry for Robots, for which he created a web of words used to tag images, drawing connections between less concrete concepts. And, a cheeky site built to quiz readers on their own Turing Test capabilities challenges readers to determine whether a line of poetry was written by a human or a bot; humans often failed.

Does this mean human writers are becoming endangered, soon to be replaced by an entity that’s higher up in the job market food chain? That all depends on what readers value.

If reading is about gleaning information, and not about whether that information comes from a source with its own recognizable emotions, then it’s not unlikely that AI could turn out musings as moving and perplexing as any human’s. This is why weather reports and sports scores could be relayed by a bot rather than a reporter who’s physically present at an event. But what about poetry?

In a cheeky piece about the future of verse, Patricia Lockwood quipped, “Will it change as technology changes? Will it get random buttons all over it? Will it, ultimately, be a robot?”

If American audiences have any sway in how things develop, Lockwood’s joke may become a reality. In a Pew study published last year, respondents thought art-creating robots were a more likely technological innovation than teleportation, weather control, and the colonization of other planets.

Whether or not robo-poets or robo-romance writers are in our future, we’re ready for them. In the meantime, AI make for pretty entertaining conversationalists.

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