Mass-market romance has been entertaining desperate housewives and harried moms for decades.
Popularized by British company Mills and Boon (creators of 1930s “escapist fiction” for women) and North American publisher Harlequin Enterprises, the romantic novel continues to thrive as modern literature.
But can it survive the AI revolution?
“I’ve always been fascinated with romance novels—the kind they sell at the drugstore for a couple of dollars, usually with some attractive, soft-lit couples on the cover,” computational scientist, software developer, and science writer Elle O’Brien mused in a recent blog post.
“So when I started futzing around with text-generating neural networks a few weeks ago,” she continued, “I developed an urgent curiosity to discover what artificial intelligence could contribute to the ever-popular genre.”
A library of “almost human” book titles, that’s what.
By feeding more than 20,000 Harlequin-brand romance novel names into a neural network, O’Brien produced an inventory of epithets worthy of supermarket shelves.
“I was not disappointed with what came out,” she admitted. “I even Photoshopped some of my favorites into existence.” (Author names were also synthesized using machine learning.)
Curated by theme (pregnancy; sheikhs, vikings, and billionaires; weddings; doctors and surgeons; Christmas; cowboys; PG-13 raunch), the titles came out “90 percent human [and] 10 percent all wackiness,” according to O’Brien.
My personal front-runners include Becoming the Baby Count, Prince Dad Sheikh?, Missingbroom Bride, Dear Dr. High-Kungly Seductive Mistake, Christmas with her Blackmail, Midwife Cowpoke, and Naked Hot Ranger (a little too on-the-nose, if you ask me).
O’Brien also highlighted “rather depressing books” that “sounded like M. Night Shyamalan was a collaborator”: Married in Fear, The Blood!
Par for the AI course, there were also some “adorable failures” and near-misses generated by the neural network, like Seeping Baby Man, Romancy Heart, Captive Something Bachelor, A Perfect Giantess, and Nookan’s Buttymance.
“Maybe one day there will be entire books written by computers,” O’Brien said. “For now, let’s start with titles.”
In a postscript erratum, the blogger reveals that Surgery by the Sea, one of the physician-starring monikers “is actually a real novel,” written by Sheila Douglas and published in 1979.
O’Brien began tinkering with AI last month, when she compiled “the wisdom of the brightest minds and most celebrated romantics in history” as machine-made quotes for marrying friends.
(I really hope she included the heartwarming conclusion that “You can’t marry you, even if it is a real person.”)
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