One or both of my readers my remember my long time fondness for the work of Dr. Janelle Shane, an optical physicist who delights in exploring the capabilities and limitations of neural networks – computer systems that attempt to identify what certain words or images have in common and then generate novel members of the inferred set. While she has used neural networks for many delightful things, this week she has literally used it to release the Kraken!
Apparently there is some discussion online about the new/renewed sports ball league the XFL. The XFL is something like US or Canadian football, with a few changes to prevent injury and showcase big play capabilities, and is meant to serve as an intermediate league between elite college football and the NFL. The idea is that many pro prospects don’t pan out for one reason or another, but not all of these reasons are (at least entirely) the fault of the player. With an intermediate league, players that went undrafted by the NFL or who played a short time but were then cut can attempt to use the lesser pro-league to pay their rent while they try to keep up their skills and convince another, better paying team in the CFL or NFL to give them a shot. The XFL has already played one season, gone bust, and reformed with new teams and new team names.
It is the team names more than the corporate organizational follies that have attracted attention this week. Apparently they are too conventional, predictable, even boring for some fans’ tastes, and certainly more so than was expected for a league that is, I kid you not, run by the head of the wrestling-spectacle company WWE. This unexpected turn to the bland inspired someone at Adweek to commission Shane to see if the neural network GPT-2 could have generated names better suited to the supposed-excitement the XFL league is attempting to create with their tailored-for-athleticism-drama-and-scoring rules. As it turns out, GPT-2 did what I think was quite a good job with this set of names and logos:
While we might anticipate the favorite name of PZ, “Kraken Guard” only ranked #2 for me. “tiny DESTROYERS” hit my #1, with the combination of name and teacup logo being entirely irresistible. Even #2 was in doubt for some time, as I found the Wombatz to be spilling over with charm.
There were more, of course. Names that didn’t reach the cutoff for Shane’s main article (but published in her bonus material) included the Yaks, the Kittens, the Tiggers, and I’m Fine, And You? on the cuter side and the HawkHawks, Fangry Jackals, Mantis Shrikes, and Spider-Eaters on the more ferocious side.
As always, you should give Shane’s blog itself a visit and see what you’ve missed since the last time I featured her work, and if you feel inspired subscribe to her e-mail list to get special linkies to the bonus material.