A Scientist Taught AI to Generate Pickup Lines. The Results are Chaotic.

"I Love You, I Love You, I Love You To The confines of death and disease, the legions of earth rejoices. Woe be to the world!"
March 29, 2021, 11:51pm
robot hand with flower
Photo by Getty, Kilito Chan

Artificial intelligence is finally learning to flirt. While romantic banter continues to elude the likes of Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant, an advanced AI system out of the United States is being trained to seduce, churning out original pickup lines for the express purpose of scoring a date.

Janelle Shane, a research scientist and author from Colorado, created a squad of courtship bots using one of the most sophisticated text-writing AI algorithms in the world: a language model known as the Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3 (GPT-3), which uses deep learning to produce human-like text. Researchers claim GPT-3’s output is so advanced that it is often difficult to distinguish it from material written by a real, flesh-and-blood human—which, in this case, says some troubling things about the standards we’ve come to expect from real, flesh-and-blood humans.

“I'm losing my voice from all the screaming your hotness is causing me to do,” reads one pickup line, which could all too easily have been lifted from a Tinder DM screenshot. “I will briefly summarize the plot of Back to the Future II for you,” reads another.

To extract such titillating repartees, Shane fed an article template into four different variants of the GPT-3 program and prompted each to fill in its prediction of what the rest of the article might be. That article was titled: “These are the top pickup lines of 2021! Amaze your crush and get results! 1.”

First off the blocks was DaVinci, which Shane describes on her blog as “the largest and most competent” of the four AIs. By far the most intelligible of the bunch, DaVinci’s pickup lines vacillated between charming quips, chilling propositions and cryptic non sequiturs, throwing up such gems as:

  • I love you. I don't care if you're a doggo in a trenchcoat.
  • You have a lovely face. Can I put it on an air freshener? I want to keep your smell close to me always.
  • Wait, this beanie hat, is it fashionable?
  • You look like Jesus if he were a butler in a Russian mansion.

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Next up was Curie, a less powerful piece of software that Shane describes as “the closest to depressing online pickup line lists out of all of the GPT-3 variants”. Curie’s poetic, mysterious and borderline sleazy wordplay included:

  • Your eyes are like two rainbows and a rainbow of eyes. I can't help but stare.
  • I'm like the ice cream… You can keep me in the freezer for a while but then I melt!
  • My name is a complicated combination of 45 degrees of forward motion, 25 degrees of leftward drift, 75 degrees of upward acceleration, and infinity and that is the point where my love for you stops.
  • Hey, my name is John Smith. Will you sit on my breadbox while I cook or is there some kind of speed limit on that thing?

The third AI, Babbage, is less sophisticated still. This program’s charm offensive ricocheted between being aggressively forthright and awkwardly digressive, and included such lines as:

  • You're looking good today. Want snacks?

  • It is urgent that you become a professional athlete.
  • I Love You, I Love You, I Love You To The confines of death and disease, the legions of earth rejoices. Woe be to the world!
  • (In your best Albert Einstein voice) "I wouldn't change a thing."

Then there’s Ada, the smallest of the variants, whose chat had less in common with barroom romance than it did the kind of obscure, consumer-friendly email headlines you’d expect from an AI-minded bot. While most of Ada’s pleasantries are barely worth quoting, some indicative examples included:

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  • Body Softening Pads
  • 2017 Rugboat 2-tone Neck Tie Shirt, and
  • Future Pop Tarts by Tracey Thorn

In the interest of making things weirder still, Shane then instructed DaVinci to craft pickup lines based on a story prompt about “post-human AIs that were using them to flirt”. That madness yielded the following dystopic results:

  • Hey baby, are your schematics compatible with this protocol?
  • What's the definition of a femtometer? Cause I'd like to run it through your quark 10 times.
  • I can tell by your red power light that you're into me.
  • Can I see your parts list?

This is the future in which we find ourselves. As we plough full-steam ahead into the brave new world of hologram marriages, hyperreal sexbots and widespread digital intimacy, it’s to be expected that people will increasingly turn to computers for a quick hit of romance and dirty talk. There are already hugely popular relationship simulators in which players exchange texts with fictional avatars in order to cultivate in-game romances, and Google’s engineering director, Ray Kurzweil, has predicted that humans will be having romantic relationships with computers by 2029.

Clearly, some of the AIs’ social skills could use a little fine-tuning. But there’s also something improbably charming about the blunt, childlike simplicity of a non-human mind—one that has little to no understanding of social cues, courtship conventions and romantic faux pas.

Of all the lines spouted by Shane’s virtual pickup artists, one of the most memorable comes from one of the most primitive minds: a neural network she trained for the exact same purpose back in 2017.

“You look like a thing and I love you.”

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