To whom do Google researchers turn when they want to make their products more personable, with a greater grasp of the nuances of language? Romance novels.
That’s according to Buzzfeed, who reports they’ve been feeding more than 2,000 books, such as Erin McCarthy’s, Jacked Up through the company’s artificial intelligence engine. Reporter Alex Kantrowitz spoke to Andrew Dai, the engineer in charge of the project, who explained that, “In the Google app, the responses are very factual,” and added, “Hopefully with this work, and future work, it can be more conversational, or can have a more varied tone, or style, or register.”
In other words, romance novels are acting as a sort of Henry Higgins for personability, schooling the company’s AI on how to be chatty rather than dry.
Now, it’s not entirely clear how much these Google researchers actually know about romance novels:
Romance novels make great training material for AI because they all essentially use the same plot to tell similar stories with different words. “Girl falls in love with boy, boy falls in love with a different girl. Romance tragedy,” Dai said. By reading thousands of such books, the AI can detect which sentences contain similar meanings and gain a more nuanced understanding of language. Romance novels work better than children’s learn-to-read books, since they offer a broad range of linguistic examples for the AI to draw from.
If it’s a “romance tragedy” it’s pretty well not a “romance novel” by definition. The genre has many tropes an author might choose to play with or not, but the happily-ever-after ending is one of the few rules fans expect followed diligently, and Dai’s mixup makes me wonder how many of these books were actually Nicholas Sparks novels. And romances aren’t any more “the same plot to tell similar stories with different words” than mysteries, thrillers, fantasy—any number of genres of storytelling. They’re tightly focused on a certain aspect of the human experience, sure, but they’re wildly variable in the way they tackle it.
But then, I’ll gladly trust romance novels with an AI over, say, hard-boiled fantasies of murder and mayhem. No sense taking chances, right?