Click-bait Rabbit Hole

I was ironically searching for a clickbait headline generator to fill in the description for yesterday’s blog post when I came across the site Click-o-Tron and this little gem:

New President Is 'Hours Away' From Royal Pregnancy

Click-o-Tron Headline of the Day

I had never heard of the site before, but as soon as I looked through the archives I was hooked. Each post contains a plausible, albeit fantastic miso-mash of words and images. It was like reading a series of juxtaposition poetry. Just give this one a gander: A Tour of the Future Hot Dogs in the United States.

As it turns out™️ the whole site is based on a Reccurent Neural Network programmed and trained by Lars Eidnes. While reading his genesis of Click-o-Tron, I found this bit which spoke to my original poetic connection with the site:

It surprised me how good these headlines turned out. Most of them are grammatically correct, and a lot of them even make sense.

Consider the sentence “Mary J. Williams On Coming Out As A Woman”. I suspected this might be a case where the network had simply memorized a headline from the dataset. It turns out this was not the case. The only thing similar to “Coming Out As A Woman” is the headline “Former Marine Chronicles Journey Coming Out As A Trans Woman On YouTube”. The name “Mary J. Williams” does not appear in the dataset. The network has apparently learned that this is a plausible name, and also that such a name is the type of thing that can come out as a woman.

I can’t say I understood all of the detail about the Recurrent Neural Network that powers the website, but I was enthralled by the amount of fun Eidnes appeared to have while putting this together. The penultimate paragraph says it all:

In total, [Click-o-Tron] gives us an infinite source of useless journalism, available at no cost. If I remember correctly from economics class, this should drive the market value of useless journalism down to zero, forcing other producers of useless journalism to produce something else.

👏 Well done sir, well done.


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