The British have a strange, ancient custom of naming things terribly. Specifically, towns and place names in the British Isles often have names that sound like they were invented by a tiny, precocious, unintelligible baby. The curious format of British place names is so unique, in fact, that one researcher was able to get an A.I. to do it almost perfectly. The fake, computer generated names are almost indistinguishable from the real thing.
Dan Hon, the director of content at Code for America, ran a directory of British place names through a recurrent neural network — a type of A.I. that works both forward and backward to replicate patterns — and taught it how to create them itself earlier this month. The results were well, pretty fascinating. Turns out when you teach the machines that there are real places named naughty things like “Brown Willy,” “Crotch Crescent,” and “River Piddle,” they’ll go right ahead and run with it, producing obscene names like “Cum on Street” and “Fuckley,” while the cleaner but no less silly inputs like Plumpton and Curry Mallet give you many other oddities (don’t go to Walton Sith Lefing if you’re a Jedi).
The machine behind all of it is a recursive neural network, or RNN. Hon writes in a blog post that he used Programmer JC Johnson’s open source “torch” RNN for the project, teaching it to emulate the style and wording of obscure British place names.
RNNs are like most neural networks, in that they analyze a list of inputs and then test the outcomes to produce a desired result: in this case, places that sounded like actual towns. Recursive neural networks mean that as the A.I. processes a decision, it can also backtrack and use its internal memory to process inputs, making them ideal for language and speech processing (which has a lot of variables and inputs).
We reached out to Hon to ask him more about the casual project, but for now, we’ll let the results speak for themselves. The machine was so good that Gizmodo made an extremely challenging quiz on which ones were real and fake. Here’s some of the best (fake) ones:
- Twettle Row
- North Hill Row St Marne
- Boll of Binclestead
- Farton Green Pear End
- Cum On Street
And that’s just a start. Hon has a list of his favorites or you can scroll through the entire list of thousands — we highly recommend using the Control + F or search function to look for dirty words, or just finding a band name or location for your next Dungeons and Dragons campaign.Photos via Flickr / fdecomite, Getty Images / Ian Forsyth