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Neural Network Generates Adorable Names for Rescue Guinea Pigs

Meet Popchop, Fuzzable, Princess Pow and more

Equipped with their new names, Fleury White and Stargoon are ready to find their forever home. (Courtesy of the Portland Guinea Pig Rescue)
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The Portland Guinea Pig Rescue has provided care to many of the fluffy rodents in need of a forever home. But coming up with creative names for the ever-shifting roster of guinea pigs can be challenging, so the organization’s staff came up with an unusual and tech-savvy solution. As Marykate Jasper reports for The Mary Sue, the Portland Guinea Pig Rescue contacted research scientist Janelle Shane and asked her to train a neural network to generate guinea pig monikers.

It was an adorable task for a very sophisticated technology. Neural networks (more accurately known as artificial neural networks) are a type of artificial intelligence comprised of thousands of processing nodes, Larry Hardesty of MIT News explains. Each node completes a simple processing step and works in tandem with a large network of other nodes.

Scientists train these neural networks to perform certain tasks—like image recognition—by feeding in large amounts of data. The network adapts over time, identifying patterns in the data that allow it to generate its own output.

Shane has toyed around with neural networks before. She is, in fact, the author of a blog titled “Letting Neural Networks Be Weird,” where she writes about using this technology to generate things like paint colors or even cheesy pickup lines. So when the Portland Guinea Pig Rescue got in touch about its naming conundrum, Shane jumped at the chance to help.

“I was fairly certain that this particular feat had not yet been tried in the history of machine learning research,” she writes in a blog post describing the endeavor.

The rescue gave Shane a list of 628 guinea pig names, pulled from both the organization’s intake database and the internet. Then Shane set to work training a neural network—a process that only took her a few minutes.

For this particular task, Shane based the network on an open-source program created by Andrej Karpath dubbed char-rnn, she tells Rae Paoletta of Gizmodo. She fed in the list of names and let the network get to processing.

“It gradually formed its own internal rules about which letters and letter combinations are the most quintessentially guinea pig,” she tells Paoletta.

For the most part, the neural network excelled at its task, generating names that are cute, a little off-kilter, and oh-so-fun to say. The rescue has already bestowed some of the new names on its resident puffballs: there is Popchop, Fuzzable, Buzzberry, After Pie, Fleury White, Stargoon, Hanger Dan, and last but certainly not least, Princess Pow. Other options included Fufbey, Splanky, Fubby, Gooper, and Dab.

Sometimes, however, the network missed the mark, generating names that no self-respecting guinea pig would appreciate. Among the rejected monikers were Madly Mean, Fleshy, and Bho8otteeddeeceul.

The newly-named guinea pigs are still looking for loving families, so head over to the Portland Guinea Pig Rescue’s website if your life could use a little Buzzberry or Popchop.

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a journalist based in New York City. Her work has appeared in New York magazine, Flavorwire, and Women in the World, a property of The New York Times.

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