The term artificial intelligence might conjure images of sinister supercomputers or space-age crystalline mechanisms, but Shane's neural net program is an unassuming little chunk of open-source computer code called char-rnn. It's just one of several neural net frameworks available online, for free, developed by a growing community of neural network enthusiasts.
As for the hardware required, well, that's surprising, too.
“I'm doing the work now on a 2010 MacBook Pro,” Shane said. “It's slow, but it works.”
In fact, pretty much anyone can adopt a neural net of their own and set it up on their laptop or desktop system.
“To get the fastest performance, it's best if you have a graphics card that can help speed up your calculations,” she said. “But you don't need to own a powerful computer to get these calculations going. The limiting factor for me is really just the time I have to go through the data sets. I just get a computation going, then I go do something else and check back in on the progress.”
For a little over a year now, Shane has been posting the results of her experiments on her Tumblr blog, which she started while earning her Ph.D in electrical engineering from the University of California, San Diego. Her neural net project is a hobby, essentially, and Shane has no financial or professional stake in the work. By day, she's employed as a research engineer at a small company outside Boulder, Colorado.
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But in recent weeks, her experiments, along with her articulate enthusiasm for the subject, have won her a growing number of fans and readers. Several of her posts have gone viral, getting picked up by media outlets like Nerdist and The Atlantic and forwarded around by researchers in the AI business.
Click around Shane's blog and you'll find many more lists generated by her pet AI. In one recent experiment, Shane fed her neural net more than 100,000 plot summaries from Wikipedia entries on various books, films, video games, and TV shows. After a few days of ruminating, the neural net suggested a long list of potential story titles, which Shane then sorted by genre: Cannibal Spy 2 (action/adventure), Swords and Batman: Summer Party (sci-fi/fantasy), Zombies of Florence (horror).