Emergent Tech

Artificial Intelligence

When neural nets do carols: 'Santa baby bore sweet Jesus Christ. Fa la la la la la, la la la la'

A truly AI Christmas to one and all + El Regmas song

By Rebecca Hill


RoTM "King of toys and hippopotamuses full of the light of that stood at the dear Son of Santa Claus."

What is this latest madness? you may ask. Well, it's 2017 and it's Christmas so someone has obviously had a crack a training a neural network to write carols.

The results are at least entertaining, even if they might offend the devout – or simply those not keen on the idea of Santa popping out a baby Jesus or people getting it on with snowmen.

Janelle Shane, a PhD student from the University of California San Diego who likes to use neural networks for humour, is responsible for the festive frivolities.

"My process starts with a dataset – something that the neural network has to figure out how to imitate," she wrote on her blog.

"Rather unfairly, I give it no instructions about whether it's trying to write knock-knock jokes or invent Halloween costumes or begin a novel. It doesn't even have any built-in knowledge of English. It definitely doesn't have any clue what Christmas carols are."

At first, because the network is using random rules to write, it spits out rubbish, like: a a a na snn aca naa i s a i aa a a n a uugna nn na i a uaa a a i a a a a a sna aagt o aa

But after checking the rules against real carols in its database it makes tweaks to improve them, learning how to cap up letters, add in line breaks and figuring out real words.

"Neural networks tend to pick up tone and vocabulary pretty easily, but struggle with making sense," Shane said.

The resulting carols have a certain rhythm to them but make no real sense – much like poems that literary types might describe as having hidden meaning and depth.

Choice couplets include:

The world and joy of the sleigh Santa baby bore sweet Jesus Christ

The holly bears a berry, And all the reindeer of the sky

The holly bears a berry and reindeer He was born today!

And Santa baby bore sweet Jesus Christ, And the chimney the angels sing.

And later:

The story of the chimney see

Santa baby, and blood and joyous so world and joy and good will to see

Santa baby bore sweet Jesus Christ

Fa la la la la la la, la la la la la la la la.

King of toys and hippopotamuses [sic] full of the light of that stood at the dear Son of Santa Claus

He was born in a wonderful christmas tree

There are also some more, er, explicit takes that Shane cut out of her blog for reasons of good taste – obviously not something that so troubles El Reg.

It's Christmas time peetime story with my baby tonight

The sandman and ass and all the reindeer so bright.

Then I heard ol' Santa baby

The sandman of the moon


It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

I wanna give it to you Ding dong, ding dong Christmas day

Merry Christmas! ®


Given that it's Christmas, your correspondents at El Reg have worked hard feeding their own carol generator to create a 12 Days of Regmas.

We'll save you the repetition and just skip to the final verse in its full glory.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

Twelve tech firms failing

Eleven guv'ment cock-ups

Ten Bitcoins rising

Nine AI 'breakthroughs'

Eight C-suite scammers

Seven banking TITSUPs

Six Bitcoins falling

Fiiiiive-Geeee stand'rds

Four data breaches

ThrEE outages

Two trapped cocks

And a vulture with a red top!

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